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Originally published November 9, 2012 at 11:11p.m., updated November 9, 2012 at 11:32p.m.

Keegan

Opinion: Improved Naadir Tharpe delivers in pressure situation

KU sophomore Naadir Tharpe, left front, gets his team together in the final minutes against Southeast Missouri State on Friday at Allen Fieldhouse. KU defeated SEMO, 74-55.

KU sophomore Naadir Tharpe, left front, gets his team together in the final minutes against Southeast Missouri State on Friday at Allen Fieldhouse. KU defeated SEMO, 74-55.

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Podcast episode

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

KU coach Bill Self talks after 74-55 win over SEMO

KU coach Bill Self talks after his team's 74-55 win over Southeast Missouri on Nov. 9, 2012.

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Podcast episode

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

Jeff Withey, Perry Ellis and Naadir Tharpe

Kansas players Jeff Withey, Perry Ellis and Naadir Tharpe talk after KU's 74-55 victory over Southeast Missouri on Nov. 9, 2012.

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Box score

KU-Southeast Missouri

The referee blew his whistle, and Kansas University senior point guard Elijah Johnson headed to the bench with his fourth foul with 12:10 left in a six-point game against Southeast Missouri State.

That’s when the training wheels flew off of sophomore Naadir Tharpe’s bicycle. Time for him to become a steady presence with the ball in his hands, hit a shot or two and help his team to build the lead to a comfortable margin.

Tharpe passed the test in helping Kansas win its season opener, 74-55, Friday night in Allen Fieldhouse, even if he didn’t receive straight A’s from his coach after the game.

“Naadir’s best play for us right now is he can make a shot,” said Bill Self, after Tharpe made one of six three-pointers. “Naadir’s a good shooter. Statistically, he hasn’t shot it great, but he’s a good shooter.”

Self seemed on the verge of biting his tongue and leaving it at that. Instead, he continued.

“But he backed out of two competitive plays, and that stuff drives me nuts,” Self said. “He did some pretty good stuff, but it’s not where it needs to be. He’ll get there.”

Tharpe scored seven of his career-high 10 points in the second half and turned it over twice in 28 minutes, which counts as progress from a year ago.

Tharpe shared what Johnson told him after he headed to the bench.

“He told me, ‘It’s finally your time to run the team and control it. Just play your game and be as confident as you can while you’re out there,’” Tharpe said. “That’s what I tried to do.”

The emergence of a ball-handler who can take some of the load away from Johnson and in the process disrupt the opposing point guard ranks as one of this team’s greatest needs.

That’s why two days before the opener Self called Johnson “probably as important a player as we’ve had in our program to the success for our team as anybody we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

At the moment, Tharpe’s the best option. In time, if he can tame his wild side with the ball in his hands, Rio Adams could pass him. He’s more physical, longer and stronger than Tharpe, a slight 5-foot-11 guard from Worcester, Mass.

“I kind of figured once he had his fourth foul I would have to go back in the game for a while and be in the game,” Tharpe said of his most pressure-packed opportunity. “I tried to get my mind right and help the team as best as I can. Ben (McLemore) played outstanding in the second half, as well as Travis (Releford) and Jeff (Withey) and the rest of the team. We all kind of pulled together as one to finish the game.”

McLemore (nine points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots) took on some of the ball-handling responsibilities, smoothly running the point on a couple of fast-break opportunities. He also showed a great knack for crashing the offensive boards by spotting openings and jetting to the rim. He moves so swiftly and quietly that before you realize he’s going someplace, he already has arrived. Seemingly out of the play, blink, in the play, dunk.

Tharpe’s best moment came when he drove all the way to the hoop, dropped it in, was fouled and made a free throw that pumped KU’s lead 16 points, not quite six minutes after Johnson headed to the bench.

Perry Ellis, who more often than not rewards guards with an assist for feeding him the ball, was instrumental in the steady widening of the lead without Johnson on the floor.

As much as what he did, it’s what Tharpe didn’t do that helped. He didn’t get sloppy with the ball.

Michigan State, consistently among the most physical of the nation’s perennial powerhouses, is next up for Kansas on Tuesday in Atlanta.

Doing it against Southeast Missouri State isn’t the same as doing it against the Spartans, but knowing that the team extended the lead when he was on the floor has to help Tharpe’s confidence, which went AWOL during his freshman season.

Comments

yovoy 1 year, 10 months ago

I was impressed with how Naadir, without Elijah on the floor, just put on his big-boy pants and played ball. I was very happy to see it. What is good for Naadir is good for the team. Great job, now keep doing it.

2 turnovers - great statline in a herky-jerky game where the Relly and EJ played like they haven't been in the program for long. Releford was as bad as I've ever seen him. He's normally rock-solid. McLemore is much better than I anticipated, and he's only going to get better.

I don't see this team winning the conference, but after looking around a bit, I think we have a chance.

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milehighhawk 1 year, 10 months ago

Rule: If you "Don't see this team winning the conference" you need to say who will.

2

Boouk 1 year, 10 months ago

KU's by far the best team in the Big 12.

0

SaltLakeHawk 1 year, 10 months ago

"I don't see this team winning the conference, but after looking around a bit, I think we have a chance."

LOLOLOLOLOL

Hey yovoy, 2011 Dickie V wants his BIg12 conference analytical prowess back.

9 straight. Book it.

0

Mike Bratisax 1 year, 10 months ago

I'm not saying Tharpe hasn't improved but he still isn't ready to lead this team. His defense is subpar and his turnovers to steals ratio needs to be reversed.

On the other hand, Jeff Withey obviously came to play and Ben McLemore and Perry Ellis were also impressive.

Travis and EJ haven't shown as much improvement as I would have hoped for but still too early to make any real judgments.

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Robert Rauktis 1 year, 10 months ago

Bad news: MSU lost last night. Izzo usually doesn't lose two straight, particularly one with an equal capability.

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MoralVictory 1 year, 10 months ago

Shocking News: Shabazz ruled ineligible by the NCAA. Who could have ever predicted that?

3

1 year, 10 months ago

Had he committed to UK, he would have been cleared.

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KULA 1 year, 10 months ago

Glad to see Naadir step up and have a good game. Especially after suffering Bill's quick hook all last season. Naadir's gonna be a good guard for us. He's got good quickness, a good shot, and he doesn't look like he's got that "fear of shooting" disease, which Bill so often instills in his players.

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hawk316 1 year, 10 months ago

KULA, not sure I agree that Self instills a "fear of shooting" disease in his players. I've heard/read numerous comments from the coach where he has expressed frustration that a player is not shooting enough. (Remember how he used to punish Brandon Rush for not taking the open shot?) I just think he encourages his players to take good shots.

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Steve Kubler 1 year, 10 months ago

The drive and 1 appeared to give Tharpe a spark last night, one that I hope carries over. After that play his demeanor changed showing more poise and confidence. I believe that he saw that he can carry the team at a time when he had to be the man. That has not happened for him before last night, he was always in the make one mistake find the pine position.

A confidence builder like that can be a powerful thing. Yes it was a minor opponent, one that was what? 6 points from taking the lead? Tharpe came in, made some plays, and the team kicked it up a notch for a blow out. Yeah he wasn't the only one to kick it up, but I am talking about what MAY be occurring in his mind in the way of maturing into a confident and capable point guard.

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REHawk 1 year, 10 months ago

In early November last season a huge concern was with the development of Jeff Withey. This season, Naadir's progress has been on the minds of many posters. Last night's performance was good for him and all of us. (Should I type MOST of us?)

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Dale Kroening 1 year, 10 months ago

Did you see the MSU team that played and lost to an unranked UConn last night? We will be fine. Self will have this team fired up to play MSU.

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HawkKlaw 1 year, 10 months ago

This is the kind of performance I've been waiting for from Naadir. He is such a gifted passer, shooter and dribbler. People are quick to discount him because of his size and how he turned the ball over last year, but that was the inexperienced freshman version of Tharpe. He's starting to prove that he deserves to be out there when it counts. Sure, he needs to do it against better competition (like against MSU tomorrow night), but watching him step up Friday night was a relief.

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