KU’s uneven start to the ESPN Events Invitational continued Friday, 24 hours after we saw them keep North Texas at arm’s length for 40 minutes en route to a 12 point victory. The opponent today was Dayton, who already featured 3 losses to teams ranked 200 or lower by Ken Pomeroy.
Kansas was favored by 16, and early on it seemed like that number might be pretty low. The Jayhawks started with an 11-1 run before Dayton woke up. The Flyers pulled back to within five before Kansas got the lead back to double digits just before the under-8 timeout. However, Kansas suffered from the same issue they had on Thanksgiving, where they simply couldn’t seem to put their collective foot on the gas and really take the inferior opponent out of the game. North Texas never really made them pay for that, but Dayton was able to claw their way back into the game. The Jayhawks did rally to make it a 45-35 advantage heading into the locker room, but things went downhill from there.
The Flyers managed to make this a tie game before the first media timeout of the second half, opening the second half on a 14-4 run. After that, it became a lot of back-and-forth between the two teams for a while. What broke up the back-and-forth, unfortunately, was another Dayton run. Kansas was up 59-57 when the Flyers went off again, scoring 11 of the game’s next 13 points and building up a game-high seven point lead 68-61 with 7:23 remaining.
At the final media timeout, the Jayhawks faced a three point deficit, 70-67, and there was real reason for concern about an early-season letdown. Dayton had a good chance to extend the lead to two possessions with less than three minutes left, but airballed an open shot, turning it over. Ochai Agbaji failed to finish on the other end, but Dayton promptly missed a shot without running time off the clock, and a jumper pulled Kansas to within one. Dayton fired off another bad shot and Agbaji was able to make them pay with a drive to the basket. Then, another Dayton turnover turned into an Agbaji dunk and with a minute left, Dayton had to call timeout, down 73-70.
Out of the timeout, a drive and layup pulled Dayton to within one. A cheap offensive foul call on David McCormack put Dayton in line to hit a game winner with 19 seconds remaining. The Flyers called a timeout with 15.8 remaining, down 73-72. McCormack partially redeemed himself with a block on a potential game winner, but Dayton recovered the loose ball and a high floater went in as time expired. Kansas lost the game, 74-73.
Agbaji led the team with 21 points, but looked understandably tired by the end and shot just 8-17 for the game. Christian Braun and Remy Martin tied for second most at 17 apiece. Braun in particular looked good, showing some ability to get to the basket and finish, and grabbing ten rebounds with five assists. McCormack’s struggles continued as he contributed just five points in 25 minutes, shooting 2-6 while committing four fouls and grabbing five rebounds. Defensively, he did have two blocks (one of which was nearly instrumental to a potential win) and recorded five steals.
Instead of playing for the Invitational Championship on Sunday, Kansas now awaits the loser of a mid-major match between Iona and Belmont.