The Kansas Jayhawks (13-4, 4-0) blew a 17-point half time lead, and survived a ferocious come back for the narrow 80-78 victory over the Oklahoma Sate Cowboys (15-3, 3-2). The Jayhawks remain the only undefeated team in Big 12 play.
The game was the story of two halves, the first dominated by the Jayhawks, and the second narrowly survived by the Jayhawks. Everything they did right before the intermission was forgotten in the last 20 minutes. In the first half, Kansas protected the ball for the most part, committing just 6 turnovers. They also did a good job guarding the perimeter, except on a couple of instances. Wayne Selden, Jr. did a good job on Marcus Smart, helping to hold him to just 8 first half free throw to account for his scoring.
During the early stages of the second half, the Jayhawks fell apart, turning the basketball over with poor passing and ball handling. Kansas turned the ball over 13 times after halftime. They left sharp shooting guards Markel Brown and Phil Forte, III open repeatedly for three-pointers, and missed important free throws down the stretch.
The game was marred by a brutal physicality on both sides that translated into 6 flagrant or technical fouls, as players made stupid, senseless fouls, and immature retaliations. The officiating crew had very little control of the game, and made horrible call after horrible call (or no calls), against both teams.
At one point, Jamari Traylor drove into the lane, crashed into a moving Cowboy, and two officials blew whistles, each with a different call. Instead of conferring and arriving at call either way, they instead called it a jump ball.
There is one obvious thing that can be taken from all this – Kansas can no longer be called soft. Over the past few games, the team has finally put forth more effort during games, and performing with a high degree of physicality. Many times, that physicality is taken too far, especially by freshman Joel Embiid, who was called for a flagrant or technical foul for the third straight game.
While his effort has been spectacular, and his contributions to the team’s Big 12 success have been priceless, his cheap, immature, chippy play at times is starting to wear thin. He needs to rein in this sort of play before it costs his team a ball game.
Naadir Tharpe continues to shoot the ball very well but his defense still leaves much to be desired. He lost Forte on a number of plays, several of which ended up as three points for Oklahoma State.
This was also a win in which depth played a huge part because the Jayhawks top two scorers barely showed up. Andrew Wiggins and Perry Ellis combined for 9 points and 6 rebounds as the never seemed to be into the game mentally. Kansas received good minutes from Frank Mason, Traylor, Tarik Black, and Brannen Greene.
Tharpe led the team with 21 points. He also had 6 assists, 3 steals, and 6 turnovers. Joel Embiid was the only other Jayhawk to score in double figures as he had 13 points, 11 rebounds, 8 blocked shots, and 4 turnovers. Selden added 9 points, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 5 turnovers. The Jayhawks committed 19 turnovers total.
Kansas again overcame their turnover issues buy winning the battle on the boards, out rebounding Oklahoma State 37-33. It also helps alleviate the negatives when as a team, Kansas shot 55.8% percent from the field including 38.9% for behind the arc.
The most impressive player on the court for the Cowboys was Marcus Smart. Though the Jayhawks did a tremendous job holding him to 3-14 from the field, he still scored 16 points as he went 10-10 from the line. He also had 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and 4 steals in the ball game. Not only that, he kept some of his more hot headed teammates from getting into even more foul trouble than they already were.
He stepped in on several occasions, pulling his teammates away from possible situations where more technicals might have been called. At one point, he even rushed up and placed a hand over a teammate’s mouth to keep him from barking at an official. His leadership qualities are as impressive as his playing skills.
Oklahoma had a strange game in the fact they hit 14 2-pointers, 12 3-pointers (all by Forte and Brown), and 14 free throws.
This was a great win for the Jayhawks, regardless of how the second half was played. Now at 4-0, Kansas has a two game lead over every team but the Kansas State Wildcats, whom the Jayhawks beat a week ago. It was as ugly of a win as you will see but a win is a win, and a year from now, few will remember the pretty ones from the ugly ones.
It is another quick turnaround for the Jayhawks as the Baylor Bears visit Monday night. The Bears have dropped 3 of their first 4 conference games ,and will be desperate for a win. Kansas will be in for another scrap.