LAWRENCE, Kansas (Ticker) -- Wayne Simien made a strong opening argument for National Player of the Year. He needed to.
Simien scored 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds as top-ranked Kansas struggled to beat Vermont, 68-61, in the season opener for both schools.
Simien, who turned down the lure of the NBA this summer, is the Big 12 Conference's leading returning scorer and rebounder. He averaged 17.8 points and 9.3 rebounds last season. The 6-9 forward shot 8-of-15 from the floor and 9-of-10 from the line.
Kansas held a 31-28 lead at the half but Vermont took a 58-54 lead with 4:31 left on two layups by Taylor Coppenrath. The Catamounts scored just one basket thereafter.
"That was a great team and we knew they were going to come out and play us rough," Simien said. "When it came down to it, we stepped up."
The game was tied, 59-59, when Christian Moody hit two free throws for Kansas with just over two minutes to play. Aaron Miles then hit his only basket of the game - a 10-foot jumper - to push the lead to four.
"Vermont is a good team," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "They played great and we didn't play very smart at times. We played too fast offensively, we were so impatient. In the second half we executed a lot better and got Wayne (Simien) involved with the offense more."
Coppenrath scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half for Vermont, which has won two consecutive America East Conference Tournaments.
J.R. Giddens and Keith Langford had 12 points each for Kansas, which won its 32nd straight home opener.
"Those guys are tough and they are competitors," Langford said. "I feel very fortunate to win the game. I don't think this is a game we would have won last year."
The Jayhawks also started the 1996-97 season ranked first in the preseason.