Following a rough ESPN Events Invitational, Kansas went to New York last Friday and took down St. John’s, pulling away in the second half to win by 20. The hope going into Tuesday’s matchup with UTEP in Kansas City was that they could keep things rolling and thoroughly beat some inferior competition.
If that was the team’s goal, they appeared to take it seriously out of the gate. Though it took nearly five and a half minutes, Kansas built up a 10-0 to start. By the second media timeout, it was 18-5, with eight points accounted for by Christian Braun, six by Ochai Agabji, and four by David McCormack, while Dajuan Harris had already picked up three steals and a pair of assists in that short time.
The lead would only build as the half went on. To be fair, part of UTEP’s issue was a lid on the hoop. KU’s defense was very good, but the Miners saw some good, open shots simply miss, compounding their struggles. By the seven minute mark, the lead was up to 32-11, and at four minutes it was 40-13. Kansas fell off a bit from their scorching hot start on both sides of the court over the remaining four minutes of the first half, but entered the break up 42-21. Part of this was due to good defense, but admittedly, UTEP making one of 14 three-point attempts helped Kansas out quite a bit.
At the break, Agbaji led the Jayhawks with 13 points, while Braun had put in ten, with five rebounds and a block. McCormack seemed to be limping by the end of the half, but had contributed eight points with two boards, a steal, and a block of his own. Conversely, Remy Martin and Dajuan Harris combined for zero points on 0-3 shooting with two turnovers. To be fair, they weren’t the ones with a hot hand, and did combine for six assists while Harris racked up five steals, so it’s not as though they weren’t benefitting the team at all. Jalen Wilson also had a goose egg in the scoring column, missing his only shot (a three pointer) but grabbing four rebounds and dishing out three assists.
The second half was far less remarkable. The Jayhawks seemed determined to play even with UTEP after building up the big first half lead. KU generally defended well but was accepting some worse shots offensively, and unlike the first half, the Miners were making some of their looks on the other end.
While Kansas never allowed UTEP to go on any big run and get back into the game, there likewise was no big Jayhawks run that put the game into major blowout proportions. Once it became clear that the lead wasn’t going anywhere, the starters began heading to the bench as the game went the second teamers and, eventually, the walk-ons. Kansas did outscore UTEP in the second half, but only by five.
For the most part, this was a very good game for Kansas. They came out and not only put away an inferior opponent, but beat the spread by eight points. Still, UTEP going 3-23 (13%) from three made it hard to judge just how much of an honest blowout this was. The Miners were one of the worse shooting teams in D1 headed into this game, so 3-23 wasn’t a complete aberration, and UTEP still was held to shooting just 16-38 (42%) from inside the arc (where the defense better influences the result of the shot). In fact, Kansas may have been slightly more impressive on the defense end than the offensive.
Agbaji would (yet again) finish as KU’s top scorer with 23, with five rebounds and three assists. Braun came close to him with 20 of his own, adding six boards. McCormack would play very little in the second half after appearing less than 100% before halftime. Dajuan Harris, with Bobby Pettiford out for the time being, played 30 minutes and while he failed to record a point while attempting just a single shot, did end up with six assists and four steals. However, in addition to his lack of scoring, he also turned it over three times.
The Jayhawks are now 7-1 and their next game will be Saturday. The opponent? That one team to the east many fans would prefer we not be playing, as the game provides little benefit to Kansas and plenty to... the opponent. But enough about Jeff Long’s horrible decisions; the Jayhawks will face a team that lost at home to UMKC inside Allen Fieldhouse at 2:15 p.m. Jayhawk Time.