I try to resist the temptation to boil a big game down to one or two events, but take a look at the following two lines:
5-9 FG, 2 TO
2-14, 1 assist, 2 TO
If I had looked at those two lines for the respective starting point guards, I would have assumed that Elijah Johnson tried to do too much and had a horrendous shooting night. But in actuality it was Marcus Smart who struggled from the floor and Elijah who made several amazing drives to the hoop, including a couple where he crossed Smart over and by winning the PG battle fairly handily helped win the game for the Jayhawks.
Unlike their last meeting, a high scoring affair, this game saw Kansas score just .91 points per trip and Oklahoma State under .9 per trip. Kansas's best work offensively game on the offensive glass, as the Jayhawks were able to grab a third of their misses against the best defensive rebounding team in the league. Kansas also proved they could win, on the road against a very good team no less, while both struggling to hit jumpers and turning it over a lot. The Jayhawks made just one three in the game and turned it over on 21% of their possessions. I have always said that Kansas is never out of a game because of how well they can defend: because it is so hard to score a point per trip against them if Kansas can just get to that magical mark, not exactly a barn burning offensive number, then they should be able to win. As last night shows, the bench mark is not even that high.
The Jayhawks kept Oklahoma State under 40% from two and remain the country's stingiest defense inside the arc. They're also 3rd nationally in eFG allowed and 6th in adjusted defense on KenPom (although by now I hope everyone knows how good I really think they are).
Until last night I wasn't quite sure what we were dealing with with this team in terms of makeup. I don't like to delve into clutch too much because we have no idea how to measure it or know who is affected on a case to case basis (for example McLemore absolutely took over the Iowa State game when they needed him to but looked like he had diarrhea for most of the game last night) but last night Kansas showed that while they may not be the most skilled or talented team out there they have a lot of fight and if a tournament game goes down to the wire I will certainly be nervous, but not filled with dread.
- It's not often I start player recaps with a guy who shoots 2-5 from two, 0-6 from three and had 4 turnovers, but as the old saying goes they probably needed to charter an extra plane for Naadir Tharpe's balls last night. He does stupid things but the confidence that kid has is unreal. No one in that building except for Naadir Tharpe thought that shot was going in, and that shot went in.
- Releford scored mostly on put backs, but he was 7-8 from two and had a huge defensive play to win the game on the final possession.
- Jeff Withey for president. The Senior was just 3-7 from the field, but made 11 of 14 free throws, had 14 rebounds and 4 blocks. He intimidated the Cowboys defensively and made huge free throws throughout both overtimes.
- Ben McLemore struggled on offense, going just 2-9 from two and 1-3 from three, but he played really tough defense on Marcus Smart (among others). He definitely needs to be better offensively but we have now seen that Kansas can blow a team out without him playing great and can win a tough road game without him playing great.
- Kansas now probably has the easiest schedule left. Their game in Ames will be very difficult, but they get the three worst teams in the league at home as well as Baylor for their other four remaining games. Obviously if they win out they will have at least a share of the Big 12 title, and the fact that Kansas State goes to Stillwater for their final regular season game could end up being a big help.