With David McCormack and, to a lesser extent, Tristan Enaruna out for Thursday’s Big 12 quarterfinal match with Oklahoma, there were a lot of questions as to how good Kansas would look what with having to adjust their lineup and offensive style of playing. After all, the Jayhawks are missing a big man who had been the focal point of the offense over last month. In the first half, Kansas made quite the statement that they could overcome McCormack’s absence by grabbing an early lead and building from there.
After playing relatively even for the first five minutes, the Jayhawks started to click. A pair of 7-0 runs for KU helped earn them a double digit lead by the 6:14 mark, up 22-12. Stifling defense and passable offense got the lead all the way up to 23, before Austin Reeves hit a three with a minute remaining to make it 35-15 at the break.
The Jayhawks were, once again, struggling from three (just 3-14 for the half), but even without McCormack, they were getting good shots inside the arc and shot 48% overall for the half. On the other end, Oklahoma was visibly frustrated, not only going just 6-20 (30%) from the field, but turning it over 12 times. Neither team shot a single free throw. At the break, KU was led in scoring by Marcus Garrett, who put together nine points and two steals, and Mitch Lightfoot, who added nine off the bench. Jalen Wilson was also a big contributor, scoring five but adding six boards and three assists. The team’s top shooters, however, continued to put up lackluster numbers from behind the arc as Christian Braun and Ochai Agbaji were collectively 0-6.
Oklahoma put together an 8-2 run to open the second half and cut into lead. After Lightfoot’s strong first half showing, some issues emerged when Kansas made it a point to get him the ball in the paint, and by the under-16, Oklahoma had almost equaled their entire first half point total, but was still down 12, 40-28. OU continued to shoot very well and slowly eat into the lead, with the difference down to single digits by the second media timeout of the half, down just 48-39.
By that time OU was 9-12 from the floor for the half and the feeling of the game had changed drastically, with KU no longer dominating and seemingly just trying to keep the Sooners at arm’s length.
Two minutes of sloppy play later, Oklahoma was the team dominating, on both ends of the court, and had made it 48-43, forcing Bill Self to call a timeout. When OU was turning the ball over and missing their shots, Kansas looked great. As soon as the Sooners cleaned it up, it became very obvious that Kansas was not going to be successful sans McCormack if they couldn’t make up for it by hitting some threes. To that point, KU was 5-18 (27%) from deep, while OU was 7-13 (53%). Out of the timeout, the Jayhawks bounced back with a 5-0 run and briefly pushed the lead back to double digits, but the Sooners weren’t deterred and trimmed the lead to three at the seven minute mark.
Fortunately for Kansas, one player was still dialed in. After struggling most of the game, Ochai Agbaji hit threes on three straight possessions, which really helped neutralize KU’s sudden inability to rebound or play defense. Agbaji continued to shoulder the load down the stretch, and Kansas went into the final minute up 65-60. Jalen Wilson hit a pair of free throws, and following a miss on the other end was sent back to the line to put it away by hitting two more. The Jayhawks ended up with a 69-62 victory that, given the way the first half went, felt a bit too close for comfort.
Agbaji would end up the Jayhawks’ leading scorer, racking up a career high 26, going 4-8 from three and 9-14 overall. Garrett also had a great game, scoring 17, while stuffing the statsheet with five boards, four assists and three steals. Wilson would finish with nine and nine, plus three assists and two steals. Lightfoot scored just two in the second half and was not a big part of the gameplan as things tightened up down the stretch.
At the time of publishing, Texas and Texas Tech have yet to play, but the Jayhawks will face the winner Friday night at 8:30 in the semifinals, and will once again be down McCormack and Enaruna.