The Kansas Jayhawks came out flat at home against the Chattanooga Mocs on Thursday night, trailing at the half by eight points but came back to win 69-55.
Early on, they looked like a team still stewing over a letdown loss in Atlanta against Michigan State on Tuesday. They didn’t look sharp on offense and turned the ball over early on the way to a 28-36 halftime deficit. The Mocs were led by freshman guard Farad Cobb who hit 7-9 from three point range, with six of those baskets coming in the first half. The Jayhawks tightened up in the second half and allowed just 19 points to the visiting team.
With a couple of exceptions, outside shooting was still a problem on Thursday. In the season opener, KU hit just 2 out of 21 three point shots. On Thursday, senior Elijah Johnson hit 4-6 from outside and Ben McLemore hit two. Collectively, the team hit just over 30% from outside and Travis Releford and Naadir Tharpe combined to hit just one out of ten outside shots.
The star of the night was McLemore, who led all scorers with 25 points. He also added eight rebounds and three assists in 35 minutes. He was able to get to the free throw line often, where he shot 7-10. He was the best player on the floor tonight, displaying his quickness and impressive vertical, including a nice drive and dunk along the baseline in the first half. He added a couple of other dunks in the second half as well. Johnson’s 18 points were second on the team and Jeff Withey added 11 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks.
Jamari Traylor got the start at forward over Perry Ellis on Thursday. Ellis had trouble for a lot of the game against the Spartans on Tuesday, while Traylor played with more energy. He kept that going with a hard blocked shot early in the first half, but Ellis ended up playing more minutes and looked better. He only scored two points but brought down four rebounds and looked more comfortable. Kevin Young chipped in 19 minutes as well in his second game of the year after breaking his hand in late October.
KU didn’t really wake up until a sequence where Johnson hit a three pointer three minutes into the second half, then Releford stole the ball and got it to McLemore for a long dunk that brought the Jayhawks to within five points. Chattanooga was held without a field goal for nearly 13 minutes, getting just four points from the line during that stretch. Kansas scored 27 points during that same period of time to pull into the lead and then run away. McLemore added a dunk in transition, then Naadir Tharpe hit a three that took any wind out of Chattanooga’s sails.
It’s probably going to be the trend for a while that this team is still learning to play together, but with each game that goes by, that can’t be relied on as an excuse. The talent is apparent, but the focus and energy has to be there too. Right now, Kansas is fading out for stretches, either a whole half like on Thursday night, or for the last five minutes like against Michigan State.
They’ll look to get in a groove on Monday when they take on Washington State in the Sprint Center in Kansas City.