Down 12 and looking fully out of whack late in the first half of Wednesday night’s game against Marquette, No. 2-ranked Kansas basketball was firmly on upset alert.

Then, in an instant, the Jayhawks could breathe easy again.

KU rode a 24-0 run to a comfortable 77-68 victory in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., powered by game highs of 26 points and 12 rebounds from junior forward Dedric Lawson. The Jayhawks (4-0) move on to an 8 p.m. Friday tilt against No. 5 Tennessee, which defeated Louisville 92-81 in an earlier semifinal.

The Golden Eagles didn’t make the Jayhawks' path easy, though.

“It was a great game,” KU coach Bill Self said in his postgame radio remarks. “We kind of saw our own blood today for the first time this year. We didn’t back down after we saw it. I thought that was terrific in how the guys responded after halftime.”

Marquette (3-2) hit 11 of its 21 attempts from 3-point range in the first half to head into the break with a 47-38 advantage, but not before KU kick-started its own staggering run at the buzzer.

Sam Hauser had a team-high five treys in the opening period for the Golden Eagles, who took advantage of a porous Jayhawk 3-point defense that entered play Wednesday ranked 307th nationally with a 38.8-percent clip allowed to opposing shooters beyond the arc.

Marquette outscored KU by eight in the final 8:47 of the first half, buoyed by 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike's removal to the bench with foul trouble. Azubuike, who couldn’t take advantage of mismatches inside early on, scored just two points and grabbed one rebound in six first-half minutes. Lagerald Vick and Lawson paced KU with 11 points apiece in the first 20 minutes, with the red-hot Vick hitting each of his first three 3-point attempts.

As mentioned, though, KU got a buzzer-beating jumper from Marcus Garrett in the final seconds of the first half, and after regrouping in the halftime locker room, the Jayhawks were off to the races.

KU scored the first 22 points of the second half across the period’s first nine minutes, turning the nine-point deficit into a 13-point lead with 11:02 remaining. Lawson got the second-half fun going with a jumper and a lob-pass assist to a dunking Azubuike and scored a team-high six points in the stretch. Garrett, who got it all started, hit a wide-open 3-pointer to finish with five points in the rally.

Marquette, meanwhile, missed its first 10 shot attempts of the second half. While brothers Sam and Joey Hauser hit back-to-back 3s to end the Jayhawks’ massive run and cut the deficit back to seven, Lawson scored four straight points to grow the lead back to double-figures. KU was never really challenged again the rest of the way.

Marquette made just three of its 10 attempts from beyond the arc in the second half, finishing 14 for 31 from 3-point range overall. Self said the team actually changed its approach to guarding ball screens midway through the first half, but the move didn’t pay dividends until the second.

Much of that had to do with the return of the player who teammates and coaches call “Big Fella."

“When you’re on your heels and they’re downhill, it’s hard, but second half, we were on our toes and they were on their heels,” Self said. “They didn’t get to the paint and force help near as much the second half. We just, which we meant to all along, made their big guys try to score. We’ll either switch or we’ll flat hedge and stay with the shooters rolling up and make their big guys score. Doke (Azubuike) is so much better than anybody we’ve got at flat hedging and getting back, and we didn’t have him in the first half very much.”

Vick finished with 16 points, while Garrett pitched in 11 and Devon Dotson contributed 10 and a team-high four assists to round out the double-figure scorers for the Jayhawks, who finally got a full-on, no-questions-asked breakout game by the former Memphis transfer Lawson.

“Dedric was off-the-charts good,” Self said. “He pulled out a bag of tricks tonight offensively, which we needed him to, and people got a glimpse how he can score the ball.”

Sam Hauser netted 20 points and hit six 3s to pace the Golden Eagles, who also got 18 points from Markus Howard, who scored just five second-half points. Self praised Dotson’s defensive effort for essentially shutting down Howard across the game’s final 35 minutes.

“Devon Dotson was unreal, unreal,” Self said. “I mean, he made the kid (Howard) take 23 shots to score 18 and he had 11 in the first five minutes, so unbelievable job by Devon. ... Yeah, (Dotson) did a lot of good things offensively, but defensively, he was worried about the right things. He was so focused on guarding Howard, and then look how good he played on offense because he’s focused on the right things.”

The Jayhawks now move on to a high-stakes matchup against fellow undefeated Tennessee, which features standout national player of the year contender Grant Williams. The 6-foot-7 junior forward is averaging 22.5 points and 8.5 rebounds this year for the Volunteers (4-0).

Given No. 1 Duke’s 89-87 defeat to No. 3 Gonzaga on Wednesday, a KU victory could perhaps move Self’s squad back into its preseason role as the nation’s top-ranked team.

“They’re exactly what we need,” Self said of the Tennessee matchup. “We’ve got young guards, a young team, and they will just punch you in the mouth and keep punchin’. They’re probably going to be — they will be as tough as anybody we play this year. From a physical standpoint, they’ve got men.

“It’ll be a war, but we need this game. We need this game to help prepare us down the road.”

 

No. 2 KANSAS 77, MARQUETTE 68

MARQUETTE (3-2)

Cain 2-4 0-0 4, John 3-6 1-1 7, J.Hauser 3-3 1-2 9, Howard 6-23 2-2 18, S.Hauser 7-15 0-0 20, Morrow 0-0 0-0 0, Bailey 1-4 0-0 2, Heldt 1-1 0-0 2, Chartouny 1-1 0-0 3, Anim 1-3 0-0 3. Totals 25-60 4-5 68.

KANSAS (4-0)

D.Lawson 9-16 7-7 26, Azubuike 3-5 0-3 6, Dotson 4-7 2-2 10, Vick 6-12 1-2 16, Grimes 0-3 3-4 3, Lightfoot 1-1 1-1 3, McCormack 1-1 0-0 2, K.Lawson 0-0 0-0 0, Moore 0-0 0-0 0, Garrett 4-13 2-5 11. Totals 28-58 16-24 77.

Halftime — Marquette 47-38. 3-Point Goals — Marquette 14-31 (S.Hauser 6-13, Howard 4-11, J.Hauser 2-2, Anim 1-1, Chartouny 1-1, Cain 0-1, Bailey 0-2), Kansas 5-10 (Vick 3-5, D.Lawson 1-1, Garrett 1-3, Grimes 0-1). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Marquette 27 (S.Hauser 6), Kansas 33 (D.Lawson 12). Assists — Marquette 17 (Chartouny 8), Kansas 10 (Dotson 4). Total Fouls — Marquette 22, Kansas 15. A — 4,981 (17,732).

 

NO. 5 TENNESSEE VS. NO. 2 KANSAS

Tipoff: 8 p.m. Friday, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Line: TBD

TV/Radio: ESPN2/KWIC-FM (99.3)

Next: Kansas vs. Stanford, 4:30 p.m. Dec. 1, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence

PROJECTED STARTERS

NO. 5 TENNESSEE (4-0)

P Player ... Ht. ... Cl. ... Pts. ... Reb.

F Kyle Alexander ... 6-11 ... Sr. ... 11.3 ... 6.3

F Grant Williams ... 6-7 ... Jr. ... 22.5 ... 8.5

G Admiral Schofield ... 6-6 ... Sr. ... 14.0 ... 7.3

G Jordan Bowden ... 6-5 ... Jr. ... 7.5 ... 3.5*

G Jordan Bone ... 6-3 ... Jr. ... 13.5 ... 4.5*

NO. 2 KANSAS (4-0)

P Player ... Ht. ... Cl. ... Pts. ... Reb.

C Udoka Azubuike ... 7-0 ... Jr. ... 15.8 ... 6.5

F Dedric Lawson ... 6-9 ... Jr. ... 16.3 ... 9.8

G Lagerald Vick ... 6-5 ... Sr. ... 20.8 ... 4.3

G Quentin Grimes ... 6-5 ... Fr. ... 10.0 ... 4.3*

G Devon Dotson ... 6-2 ... Fr. ... 9.3 ... 2.5*

* — Assists