The Jayhawks gave their fans a little extra to watch for their Thanksgiving, opening up the ESPN Events Invitational play with a Turkey Day matchup with North Texas. (Yes, I had to double check, but that’s actually what this little tournament is called. Real creative, ESPN.)
Fortunately, though this game never really reached satisfying blowout proportions, the Mean Green never really threatened Kansas. The Jayhawks started a bit slow, but had built their first double digit lead less than seven minutes in. Ochai Agbaji was hot at the start and Remy Martin was doing a good job with traditional point guard distribution duties, which is a very good sign. Kansas pushed the lead to as many as 13 in the first half, but ultimately headed to the locker room up by eight, 35-27. The half ended on a pull-up jumper from about 16 feet about by Agbaji, which if Self’s reaction was any indication, was not what he wanted the final possession to look like.
Christian Braun came out of halftime with a purpose, matching his first half total of seven points with another seven in just over four minutes of game time, pushing the lead back to 13 at 48-35. The lead reached 18 after a Remy Martin three with 14 minutes to go, and although it felt like the Jayhawks were about to open up a full-fledged blowout, the big run to put North Texas in the rearview mirror just never came. The Mean Green never got back to within single digits, but they never allowed the lead to reach 20, either. In the end, the Jayhawks just sort of cruised to a 71-59 win.
Agbaji, Braun, and Martin were the clear standout players in this one. Agabji’s 18 points were his fewest in any game so far this season(!), but it was enough to lead the team. Braun ended with 16 points and five boards, but turned it over four times in what ended up being an up and down game for the junior, who is still trying to find his role on this team and get into a real groove. Martin added eight rebounds to his 15 points, with four assists and just a single turnover, while shooting an efficient 3-6 from deep and 3-3 from two.
Jalen Wilson also got to make his first appearance this season, having served his four-game suspension for a DUI prior to the start of the season. He looked to have slimmed down just a bit, and his first step was a bit more explosive than it appeared last season. He played 19 minutes, scoring seven with six boards and a team high five assists, which was especially impressive from the small ball center/power forward.
Wilson may quickly start to eat away at David McCormack’s minutes, and rightfully so. McCormack continued his rough start to the year, as missing bunnies is still a part of his game that he just can’t shake. He played just 13 minutes, scoring three points on 1-6 shooting, grabbing just three rebounds and failing to block a shot. In fact, the team as a whole surprisingly failed to block a shot in this one.
It wasn’t the prettiest win, but in the end they beat an outmatched opponent by double digits on a neutral court, playing on Thanksgiving Day instead of being at home eating a bunch of carbs. Not exactly cause for concern.
Next up, the Invitational tournament play continues, with KU playing Dayton tomorrow after the Flyers took down Miami 76-60 in today’s first game. Assuming they get past Dayton, they will continue into the final on Sunday, where their most likely opponent will not be Alabama, who dropped their first-round matchup to Iona today.