INDIANAPOLIS -- Kansas basketball forward David McCormack arrived Friday and went through about 70 percent of the team's practice wearing a heart monitor, which tracked his response after being sidelined because of COVID-19.
"We had a pretty good gauge on his fatigue," coach Bill Self said. "We really didn't plan on playing him this much today."
McCormack, who hadn't played since March 4 after testing positive for COVID-19 before the Big 12 tournament, was pegged for 15-20 minutes in Kansas' first-round NCAA tournament game against Eastern Washington. He ended up exceeding the projection, and his season average of 23 minutes per game, to help Kansas overcome a slow start and advance.
The junior from Virginia scored a team-high 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds in 25 minutes, as Kansas overcame a 10-point second-half deficit to beat Eastern Washington 93-84 before a limited-capacity crowd of 961 at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum. The No. 3-seed Jayhawks advance in the Midwest Region to face either No. 6-seed USC or No. 11-seed Drake on Monday.
"I really thought, and his doctors thought, we could get 15 to 20 minutes out of [McCormack]," Self said. "The way he started the game, I didn't think he would give us much offensively. He was really, really good the second half, I mean, really good."
McCormack played 11 minutes in the first half but scored only two points as Kansas fell behind 9-0 and then trailed 46-38 at the break. But he helped spark a second-half surge for Kansas, which scored 51 points in the final 17:47 to erase Eastern Washington's 52-42 lead. McCormack and guards Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett all scored 20 points or more in the win, while Dajuan Harris added 12 points and four assists.
"That was definitely incredible," Garrett said of McCormack. "Knowing he hadn't practiced or did anything for the last 10, 11 days, and to be so productive on the offensive end. That was something great to see."
Kansas already was without redshirt freshman forward Jalen Wilson, its leading rebounder, who also tested positive for COVID-19 and can rejoin the team Monday for the second-round game. Reserve wing Tristan Enaruna is out until late next week after testing positive for COVID-19. The increase in positive tests forced Kansas to withdraw from the Big 12 tournament.
"It gives me some hope with Jalen coming back, he can provide some key minutes for us on Monday," Self said. "It was pretty impressive how [McCormack] played and his conditioning, considering all the stuff he's come off of."
Self employed a starting lineup featuring only one player (forward Mitch Lightfoot) taller than 6-foot-6. The Jayhawks struggled against Eastern Washington forward Tanner Groves, who had a game-high 35 points on 11-of-18 shooting, and Groves' younger brother, Jacob, who had 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting.
"Eastern Washington, they outplayed us for the most part the first 30 minutes of the game," Self said. "We had our little runs. The Groves brothers were the two best players in the game in the first half."
Garrett didn't think rust would be an issue for McCormack, noting the energy boost his teammate provided as soon as he arrived in Indianapolis.
"The guys have handled it well, and the guys that contracted COVID, they've handled it well," Self said. "Their maturity level's been really high. It wasn't woe is me. ... It hasn't been great, but it hasn't been as disruptive as you think it has. It hasn't been a glaring distraction at all. Of course, David's attitude coming back was tremendous."