LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP)—It doesn’t happen often in Kansas’ venerable Allen Fieldhouse. The game’s only standing ovation was for the visiting coach.
Rex Walters, who led one of Roy Williams’ best teams to two Big Eight championships and the 1993 Final Four as a player, returned Wednesday night as the coach of Florida Atlantic but the packed house of rabid Jayhawk fans weren’t going to hold that against him.
The fourth-ranked Jayhawks unleashed an early 12-0 run and raced to an 87-49 victory behind Brandon Rush’s 17 points. But signs were held up welcoming home Walters and the standing ovation during pregame introductions “touched my heart,” he said.
“I have said all along that the people are what makes this state and Kansas basketball so special,” Walters said. “It means an awful lot to me for them to show that much respect and love.
“Then, unfortunately, we had to play a basketball game.”
Mario Chalmers hit two 3-pointers in the run that put Kansas firmly in control at 32-13 and it was never any closer. Darnell Jackson, making his first start of the season, had 13 points and four rebounds and Darrell Arthur had 12 points for the Jayhawks (6-0).
It’s the best start since 2004-05 for Kansas, which will finally play a road game when it travels to No. 22 Southern California on Sunday.
Carderro Nwoji and Sanchez Hughley each had 14 points for Florida Atlantic. Guard Paul Graham, who is averaging 17.8 points per game, has missed two games on indefinite suspension for undisclosed reasons.
Kansas coach Bill Self said he, too, was touched by the warm welcome Walters received.
“I thought it was great,” he said. “It wasn’t the most exciting game. I thought the ovation Rex got, that was the best ovation of the night. And he deserves it. Everybody respects how hard he played. I know I did, and I was an outsider, and respects how he conducts himself.”
It’s the second time Rush has exceeded 16 points, an indication the All-Big 12 guard is quickly rounding into form six months after ACL surgery. He was 6-of-14 from the field in 19 minutes.
For the Owls, it was the finale of an exhausting start to a season that had them playing their first six games on the road. They’ll finally get a home game when they host McNeese State on Saturday.
“It’s been a monster schedule. It’s been really difficult,” Walters said. “The toughest thing with a young ballclub is that you’re trying to build confidence and we haven’t really had a chance to build any confidence. You get it through success and we haven’t had a whole lot because of our schedule, and that’s my fault more than anyone’s.”
After posting a 38-19 halftime lead, the Jayhawks quickly raised the margin to 49-25 with a 9-2 run capped by Rush’s alley oop dunk. It was 52-28 when Jackson and Rush keyed a 13-0 run. Sasha Kaun hit a three-point play, then Jackson made two free throws and a 3-pointer followed by a 3-pointer from Rush.
Not all the outstanding plays belonged to the Jayhawks. Early in the first half, Rush stole the ball at midcourt from Xavier Perkins and drove in for what seemed to be shaping up as an uncontested dunk. But the 6-foot-4 Perkins managed to get in front of the 6-6 Rush and rejected the shot just as Rush was going to slam the ball into the basket.
Capping their six-game, season-opening homestand, the Jayhawks exceeded the scoring margin of almost 26 points which had characterized their first six games. Chalmers had 11 points for Kansas, which has won 19 of its last 20 games, with the only loss to UCLA in the round of eight in last year’s NCAA tournament.
Owls center Carlos Monroe, their No. 2 scorer averaging 17.2 points, did not score until getting his first basket in the opening minute of the second half. The 6-8 junior wound up with four points on 1-for-8 shooting after getting 26 points and 13 rebounds Monday night against Missouri-Kansas City.
“If Monroe doesn’t score, they don’t have as much offense,” Self said. “But Rex is going to do it the right way. He’s going to sacrifice some performances to make sure he gives he gives his team the best chance over time. Keeping guys at home … coming to Allen Fieldhouse, and we pressure pretty good from time to time. That shows you he’s more interested in the long run as opposed to just playing good tonight. So I respect that.”