LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP)—If Julian Wright didn’t know his coach was serious about everybody showing up on time for practice, he does now.
As punishment for being tardy, the 6-foot-8 sophomore, a preseason pick for Big 12 player of the year, did not start Saturday night for the first time this season.
It mattered little, though. He still scored a career-high 23 points as No. 9 Kansas beat Rhode Island 80-69 and exacted a small measure of revenge for one of the most painful losses in school history.
“We had a time management issue with three of our athletes in the last couple of days,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Julian, Darnell (Jackson) and (Darrell Arthur). So we did not start those three.”
Wright, the only one of those three who normally does start, was not surprised he landed in the doghouse.
“You’ve got to be on time,” he said. “It’s not just acceptable. Especially not coming up to a game. You’ve just got to be ready.”
Coming off the bench was not what motivated him.
“I was just trying to take a lot of easy possessions and make the most of them rather than try to complicate them,” he said after going 10-for-14 from the field. “I’m just trying to make the game simpler.”
Brandon Rush had 19 points for the Jayhawks (12-2), who struggled for the second straight game against a huge underdog.
The Rams (7-7) went nine minutes without scoring in one stretch of the first half while missing 31 of their first 37 shots. Kansas went on a 13-0 run for a 30-14 lead.
But the 26-point underdogs, who were only 8-for-39 in the opening half, drew within 30-22 at halftime with an 8-0 run over the final two minutes. Will Daniels hit three free throws, Joe Mbang dropped in a bucket and Jimmy Baron canned a long 3-pointer at the buzzer after a Kansas turnover.
On Thursday night, the Jayhawks held Detroit, a 25-point underdog, to 15-for-50 shooting in a 63-43 victory.
Daniels had 21 points for the Rams and Darrell Harris, saddled with foul trouble much of the second half, had 12.
“Going into halftime, down eight, with only shooting 20 percent and being in that situation, I was real pleased,” Rhode Island coach Jim Baron said. “I thought we were in great shape going into the second half.”
Although it’s only the third time the schools ever met, Jayhawk fans will never forget the 80-75 beating the Rams dealt top-seeded Kansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament in 1998. One of the most infamous losses of the Roy Williams era, it brought an inglorious end to the college careers of All-American Raef LaFrentz and future NBA star Paul Pierce.
That was also the last victory over a ranked team for the Rams, who fell to 9-71 against Top 25 teams.
“Our kids showed a lot of character and a lot of maturity for a younger squad, but in this kind of atmosphere, I was really proud with how we stepped up together,” Baron said. “I thought our kids played with tremendous tenacity. I thought they really fought hard and I’m really proud of them.”
Mario Chalmers had 12 points for Kansas and freshman Sherron Collins had all but two of his 13 in the second half.
“Julian was terrific,” Self said. “He did a great job of making shots and getting rebounds. If you take away their free throws, offensive rebounds and our lack of killer instinct, that was as good as we have played in a long time.”
Baron, the Rams’ sophomore guard who had made 51 straight free throws, missed two in a row with 6:52 left. Baron had been 28-for-28 this season and had not missed a foul shot since purposely missing on Dec. 17, 2005.
Daniels said he’d never seen Baron miss two in a row.
“No I haven’t, but with the atmosphere here, obviously it’s possible,” he said. “(The Jayhawks) are very big and strong. They altered our shots. We knew they had a lot of shot-blockers and that it was going to be tough.”
Baron, who had been shooting 61 percent from the field and averaging almost 19 points over his five previous games, was 3-for-9 and had nine points.
“They are a very good team,” said the Rams’ coach, who is the player’s father. “They can score in a lot of different ways, from the outside or the inside.”
The Rams, who came in ninth among Division I schools in 3-point accuracy at 42.9 percent, were only 9-for-26 from behind the arc.