Saturday, March 9, 2019

Dynamic duo: McCormack, Lawson lift Kansas past Baylor in regular-season finale

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) puts in a bucket during the first half, Saturday, March 9, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) puts in a bucket during the first half, Saturday, March 9, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.


On a day when recent Oscar winner Kevin Willmott was honored on the court during a timeout at Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas coach Bill Self turned to a legendary Hollywood actress to describe the current state of his team following a 78-70 victory over Baylor in the regular-season finale for both teams.

“I mean, it’s ‘50 First Dates.’ Drew Barrymore could star with our team,” Self said following Saturday’s victory. “It’s something new every day.”

The Jayhawks latest victory, which capped off a 17-0 season inside Allen Fieldhouse, certainly backed up Self’s claim, with freshman David McCormack leading the Jayhawks’ offense for the first 20 minutes.

Fresh off of a career-high 18 points in a Tuesday loss at Oklahoma, McCormack scored 12 more on Saturday, with 10 of them coming in the first half.

The bruising 6-foot-9 forward from Norfolk, Va., scored the first two of the game for Kansas on a monster dunk over two Baylor players after a nifty extra pass from Ochai Agbaji (6 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists) underneath.

That merely set the tone for McCormack’s assertiveness and the one-time reserve who has started the past eight games for the 13th-ranked Jayhawks (23-8 overall, 12-6 Big 12) scored three times from the post and grabbed five tough rebounds on a day that Self said would have to be “the most aggressive we’re going to play the whole year.”

“He played terrific,” Self said of McCormack. “I should’ve played him more. He was our best offensive player the first half and made some good strong moves. … I thought he was really good.”

While McCormack’s size and frame position him well to attack just about any player an opposing team can throw at him, it’s learning how to play alongside KU’s leading scorer, Dedric Lawson, that has helped the KU freshman reach a new gear.

During the past month, and even more so during the past couple of games, the chemistry between KU’s two starting big men has become automatic.

Lawson, who tallied 23 points and 14 rebounds Saturday and closed the regular season averaging a double-double of 19.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, draws a crowd every time he moves into the paint, and McCormack is starting to find space around him to make opposing defenses pay.

“In practice, we mix up the teams and stuff so me and Dave have been playing a lot with each other so we’re just getting that chemistry of playing together in practice,” Lawson said after Saturday’s win. “Finding Dave around the rim, he’s a big body and he’s got a great touch. Most of the time you throw it to him, he’ll finish, so I try to get him in areas where he can be the most productive.”

Asked what has been the biggest reason for McCormack’s recent surge, Lawson needed little time to formulate an answer.

“He’s just playing with confidence,” Lawson said. “He’s being patient. They’re not really doubling him and he’s just taking his time and making his move.”

Added Self of his two big men playing together: “David definitely benefits from Dedric’s presence, without question.”

After averaging just 6.4 minutes per game during KU’s first 10 Big 12 games this season, McCormack’s usage has skyrocketed to 16 minutes a game during the final eight.

The KU freshman said being more comfortable on the floor and having the game slow down both have benefited him during his run in the starting lineup. But whether he’s starting or not, McCormack’s mentality has and always will be to take advantage of every opportunity he gets.

“The more you play, the more fun you have,” he said. “The more fun you have, the more positive you are, the more confident you are. I (feel) like I’ve always kind of proved myself and know the type of player I am, but, over the past few games, I feel like I have asserted myself as a post player and a post presence.”

Asked what message he has received from Self during recent days, McCormack said the agenda has not changed.

“Just to keep working, keep having a great mindset, keep working hard. Just doing your job and do what you can to help the team,” he said. “(Self) always wants more.”

That same message could have applied to the entire Kansas team on Saturday.

After building a 32-29 halftime lead, the Jayhawks ripped off a 6-0 run to open the second half. McCormack’s tip-in at the 19:37 mark got it going. Seconds later, a monster block reminiscent of one that might come from someone named Azubuike, Withey, Aldrich or Embiid, further put the Bears (19-12, 10-8) in a hole and inspired Kansas to take complete control.

Less than two minutes later, on a putback by Lawson, the Jayhawks’ lead grew to 11 and Kansas spent most of the second half protecting that type of margin.

Baylor made its runs, closing to as few as 5 or 6 points on a couple of occasions, including a 72-66 deficit with 2:35 to play, but Kansas always had an answer.

Most of the time it was Lawson, who hit 11 of 12 free throws in 36 minutes. But Quentin Grimes (9 points, 5 assists in 22 minutes) and Marcus Garrett (7 points, 3 assists, 2 steals in 27 minutes) both hit key 3-pointers in front of the Kansas bench to help the Jayhawks maintain control.

For a team that spent the entire season trying to avoid giving away its leads, none of what transpired in the final 20 minutes came as much of a surprise, including the final result.

“It’s hard to come back on Kansas here,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said after the loss. “We’ve done it a couple times, but it’s really hard to do. (They’re) too well-coached.”

That coaching will have to travel the rest of the season, with the Jayhawks playing nothing but neutral-court games the rest of the way.

Asked how he felt about his team heading into postseason play, Self said he was neither “in love with” how the Jayhawks were playing nor “ultra-concerned with how we’re playing.”

And then that whole “50 First Dates” analogy came back into play.

“I don’t really know what to expect,” Self said. “But I’m excited to see whatever happens. I still think there’s a level we can get to that we haven’t got to yet, so, you know, hopefully we’ll peak at the right time.”


Barry Weiss 8 months, 2 weeks ago

I really like the looks of next year's team. McCormack and Grimes are both finding their stride. Dotson is already there. Agbaji really did not get a whole year and he is coming through this season just fine. All of those four are really better than most McDonald All-American recruits given they have a freshman year under their belt. Hope Dok comes back. He should and if so we should be back to being a dominant team in the b-12.

Tony Bandle 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Throw in Matt Hurt and we will have one dynamic young team with Mitch, Marcus, Charlie and KJ thrown into the mix as well.

Craig Carson 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Hurt will be a key target..if they miss on him, KU will be playing small ball again next year since the only other big KU is targeting isnt expected to choose KU

Marius Rowlanski 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Missing on another in-state big, maybe the best yet didn't help

David Kemp 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Yesterday’s post game pointed to no dok next year

Marius Rowlanski 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Adding another big should be a priority. Maybe a JUCO or a grad transfer. But yeah, could be a strong team.

Dirk Medema 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Coach always seems to pull at least one out of his hat when needed.

Bryce Landon 8 months, 2 weeks ago

If you thought KSU fans were mouthy when they shared the title with us in 2013, how mouthy do you think they'll be when they have a share of the title and we don't? It's going to be a long off-season, that's for sure.

Kyle Neuer 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Just remind them of our record in their house, not to mention 14 in a row.

David Kemp 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Still judgement is based on the post season!

Dirk Medema 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Remember when WSU was mouthy?

This too shall pass, though fortunately it should give Weber lots of grace with the AD so they'll keep him around. That may be the best thing going for KU.

Steve Zimmerman 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Spot on article! I'm really happy with David's progress so far. He plays not only with energy but also with high bball IQ. I saw at least twice, where David's presence in the post gave easy access for Lawson or Ochai to the rim. His big body is a perfect screen. This is a pretty good offense play. With bigs inside, we have more chances to score. Way to use bigs in the post! I'd like to see more of that.

Clarence Haynes 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Dave came to KU as this big block of potential energy that is being converted into an awesome force whom opponents will have reckon with during the Big XII Tournament, March Madness, and the next two or three years.

Creg Bohrer 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Dave coming around as a scoring threat is huge. Not going to be able to double and triple team Lawson with him in there. What I really loved about this game is how we got the ball inside against the zone, that's a great sign since we aren't a great outside shooting team.

Robert Brock 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Coach should have explained why the Baylor point guard, Butler, put up 30+ points with ease. He usually scores 10-15 per game.

greg robinson 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Watching the way McCormack moves on the floor kind of reminds me of Lester Earl. What a year! It’s like we’ve had three separate teams. Next few weeks will be interesting.

Michael Maris 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Sure wish the staff would figure out how to get better audio of the coach. In this day and age (of technological improvements), it's a shame that the coach (who speaks softly) is hard to hear (for individuals who have hearing impairments). Just say.

Craig Carson 8 months, 2 weeks ago

home Grimes and DMAC continue their improvement..this is the best time of the year for them to find their peak

Brad Watson 8 months, 2 weeks ago

It's tournament time....I like this team...we have some scores to settle..lets go out and take care of the Horns ...and go from there....Good to see Mr. Grimes and enthusiastic David McCormack playing well...we need both of those guys as we move into this part of the season...Dotson looked super yesterday ..and Mr.Lawson was sensational.....nice win.

Dirk Medema 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Devon looked super? He was so off, it had me wondering if he was sick. Didn't he have a couple air-ball 3s on uncontested shots. He did hit his FT's late and that was most important. Through the game it was good to see the others step up, and blend together as a team. Exciting for what's ahead.

Bj Cassady 8 months, 2 weeks ago

I would like to see the Mac attack play 20-25 minutes a game and wonder the numbers he would put up.

Edward Daub 8 months, 2 weeks ago

A bit of a shame that David has shrunk from 6'10" to 6'9". As Rick Moranis would say "Honey , I shrunk the Bigs"! Rock Chalk!

Commenting has been disabled for this item.