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Sherron Collins took his eye off of a pass coming his way and fumbled it out of bounds. A long rebound fell right into Brady Morningstar’s hands in front of the home team’s bench. He couldn’t hold onto it. Tyshawn Taylor tried to feed the post with a line drive when a looping pass was in order.
So it went for much of Saturday afternoon in Allen Fieldhouse, where until Kansas University put on a second-half clinic on how to run a fast break, little old Jackson State looked like a team convinced it was going to play Chaminade to Ralph Sampson’s Virginia.
For too many Kansas players, it was just one of those days, even though the Jayhawks won, 86-62.
Yet, a weakness that had little to do with it being just one of those days and a lot to do with a specific shortcoming played a part in Jackson State hanging around as long as it did, trailing by only six points with 15 minutes left.
Kansas doesn’t have enough gifted rebounders on the floor and won’t until junior-college transfer Mario Little (stress fracture, lower left leg) returns to the lineup. Little resumed practicing Friday. KU’s big men, who have had to take on all the rebounding burden, await his return. Cole Aldrich leads the team with 10.1 rebounds per game, followed by Marcus Morris (6.5), Markieff Morris (5.6) and Quintrell Thomas (3.5).
Kansas barely won the rebounding tally, 39-38, Saturday.
A shooting guard playing out of position at small forward, Morningstar has been an efficient offensive player. His .478 three-point shooting percentage and 2.2-to-1 assists-to-turnover ratio rank first among Kansas regulars. Even for a guard, rebounding isn’t Morningstar’s strength. In the past three games, the sophomore out of Free State High has played 73 minutes and picked up just two rebounds. Morningstar lacks the length and exceptional athletic ability that made Brandon Rush such a productive rebounder.
“I think it does hurt us (on the boards),” KU coach Bill Self said of not having a true small forward. “It hurts us the most when Cole’s out of the game because when Cole’s out of the game now you’ve got two big guys in there that that’s not their expertise, and you don’t have a 3-man who can help clean up. I do think it hurts us. And there’s no disrespect to any of our guys that we have, but we’re not getting any offensive rebounds from anybody other than our big guys. So I think getting Mario back at some point in time is really going to help us for whatever minutes he’s in the game because he’s a guy who can steal us some extra possessions, no question.”
Long, athletic, active freshman Travis Releford hits the glass hard (nine offensive rebounds in 59 minutes), but until he learns where he’s supposed to be when, he’ll remain a turnover risk.
If a couple of ifs come through for Kansas, rebounding from the small-forward position won’t be a problem. If Little can stay healthy and catch up on all the practice time he has missed, and if Releford can improve his understanding of the offense and of defensive positioning, Morningstar can turn into a valuable reserve at a position his skills fit better.
Until then, Kansas failing to own the boards against an undersized team such as Jackson State shouldn’t come as a shock.