Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Behind 20 points from Isaiah Moss, No. 6 Kansas earns gritty road win over Oklahoma

Kansas' Marcus Garrett (0) and Isaiah Moss (4) slap hands during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020.

Kansas' Marcus Garrett (0) and Isaiah Moss (4) slap hands during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020.


Norman, Okla. — Road wins often come with an element of grit, but Tuesday’s 66-52 win by No. 6 Kansas over Oklahoma at Lloyd Noble Center was particularly gritty.

Playing without sophomore point guard Devon Dotson, who was unable to participate in Tuesday’s shoot-around and did not play because of the hip pointer he suffered last weekend, Kansas fielded a lineup of players who were more aggressive in everything they did against the Sooners.

No one demonstrated that better than senior guard Isaiah Moss, who finished with 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting, tying a career-high with six 3-point makes.

Moss also hit six triples in a game while at Iowa against Minnesota back in January 2019. His previous career best at Kansas came when he hit five of six 3-pointers in a blowout win over Monmouth earlier this season.

Without Dotson, the graduate transfer stepped into the starting lineup for the Jayhawks and immediately made his impact felt.

“I knew that I was going to have to step up," Moss said after the victory. "Devon’s obviously a big part of our offense, and defense, so I knew I had to step up. But it wasn’t just me. All of our guys had to step up without Devon.”

Moss, who made 96 starts during his three seasons at Iowa, scored 5 points in the game’s first 3 minutes. Three of them came on a wide-open triple after Marcus Garrett grabbed his own miss in close. And the other 2 came on a drive and floater down the lane.

“That’s what we want him to do is be aggressive,” KU coach Bill Self said after KU’s loss to Baylor. “That’s what he’s in there for, to look to score.”

The early buckets from Moss gave KU (13-3 overall, 3-1 Big 12) an early 9-3 lead and helped convince the Jayhawks that their offense could run — and work — without Dotson, who sat on the bench in blue warm-up pants and a gray sweatshirt throughout the game.

Neither team found much of a rhythm offensively in this one, with OU shooting just 28.1% from the floor in the first half (9-of-32) and Kansas shooting only slightly better, at 38.7%, but also hitting just 2-of-8 from the free-throw line.

That led to a grisly first half during which rebounds and defense accounted for most of the highlights both ways.

Moss, Garrett and senior center Udoka Azubuike scored 8 points apiece for the Jayhawks in the first half. Twenty of KU’s 28 first-half points came in the paint and, perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks turned it over just five times in the opening 20 minutes.

“Isaiah, you shoot it; Marcus, you pass it; Dok, you catch it," Self explained. "That was basically the game plan.”

After a back-and-forth first half, in which both teams delivered runs and held leads — none bigger than KU’s 6-point lead early — Moss opened the second half with a similar surge, knocking in two more triples and finding Azubuike for an easy dunk with a flashy one-handed pass.

The assist put the Jayhawks up 42-36 with 14:19 to play and forced the Sooners (11-5, 2-2) to call timeout.

After the Sooners cut the Kansas lead to 2, at 42-40, Azubuike was fouled on a tough take to the rim and nearly got the opportunity for a 3-point play. Instead, the shot missed and he stepped to the free-throw line.

Staring down the very same basket where his string of missed free throws helped cost KU the game two years earlier, Azubuike drained both charity shots to put Kansas back up 4 with 11:09 to play.

After the win, Azubuike shrugged off the moment, chalking it up to hard work paying off.

“It’s big for me," he said. "I’ve been working on my free throws and my game and stuff and I don’t let that bother me at all. If you’re going to foul me, foul me.”

Freshman wing Tristan Enaruna (2 points and four rebounds in 11 minutes) followed that up with a tough put-back of his own miss and KU regained its largest lead of the night, 46-40, with 9:57 remaining.

A couple of possessions later, Moss, without hesitation, stepped into another 3-pointer and Agbaji flipped an alley-oop to Azubuike to put the Jayhawks up by 9 with 7 minutes left.

Azubuike, who logged 33 grind-it-out minutes, finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, marking the fifth time in the last six games that he has reached double figures in rebounds.

Garrett, who handled the primary point guard duties in Dotson’s absence, finished with 15 points, five rebounds and five assists against just one turnover in 38 minutes.

Tuesday marked the second straight strong first half for Moss, who was one of the only players to find success on offense in KU’s home loss to Baylor on Saturday.

The senior sharp shooter disappeared in the second half against the Bears. And Self made sure he knew about it.

Moss stayed visible throughout this one and helped lead the Jayhawks to a key road win.

"He shot 11 (3-pointers) and I think he turned three or four down, even shooting 11," Self said. "But in order for us to be good offensively we're going to have to play small a lot more probably moving forward (especially) if Isaiah continues to be a threat like that."

The victory helped Kansas avoid its first 2-2 start in Big 12 Conference play since the 2005-06 season — Self’s third at KU — and pushed the Jayhawks to 2-0 in Big 12 road games this season.

As for Dotson’s status, Self told radio color commentator Greg Gurley before the game that he was unsure when KU’s point guard would return.

“(It’s the) same thing,” Self said, noting after the game that he had no idea on a timeline for Dotson's return. “He’s got a hip pointer. Very deep bruise.”

Self noted that the injury is more common with football players and added that, “it’s very uncomfortable and certainly can be painful. If it gets hit or if you change direction it kind of pulls on that muscle and the muscles around it pull on that bone.

“(Monday) before practice, we thought he probably would be able to (play), but it just hasn't responded quite as well to treatment as we hoped. He’ll be out today and who knows how long he’ll be out. But certainly we’ve got good players.”

Kansas travels to Austin, Texas, on Saturday for a 1 p.m. clash with the Longhorns.


Barry Weiss 2 years ago

great games by Moss, Marcus and Dok. I would go out on a limb here and say Moss should move into Ochai's starting spot to see if that can motivate Ochai to get some mojo back.

RJ King 2 years ago

I don't think mojo comes from motivation. Nothing about Agbaji says complacent or lackadaisical. He has just come back to earth, that's all.

If not for the 3 or 4 games last year where he shocked us, this is about where we would expect him to be. He's a sophomore with a ton of athleticism, who is still learning. He rarely played alongside 2 bigs last year. And, he is not going to surprise anyone this season. Opponents have watched film.

If Moss stays hot ... sure, start him. But I don't think motivation has much to do with the equation.

Barry Weiss 2 years ago

I can't disagree with you RJ. I think maybe we all have set expectations for him too high. The thing I like about Moss is that he brings a weapon to the table that other teams have to defend, possibly relieving some of the pressure that teams sag off Ochai to help defend other. The four guard line-up certainly allows both to be out there, but I still like starting games with the two bigs for as long as it works in that game. If it is going good, leave it be.

J.L. Forge 2 years ago

I also agree that expectations were set too high for Ochai, he came in and caught fire for a bit and then it died down. It certainly looks like he just overthinks too much and that the game, at least right now, doesn't just flow easily for him. He has been prone to making silly unforced turnovers and forces things too often. While I really don't like Moss's defense, getting him into a flow offensively is a huge asset (especially with us really having no other consistent perimeter threat). I agree the four guard lineup is much more productive, not sure why coach keeps running Mac out there. But hey, HCBS is the boss so let's enjoy the ride, bumps and all!

RJ King 2 years ago

I'm still in favor of starting the two bigs. Most of our opponents will not have faced that size. It could potentially take them awhile to adjust. If the bigs are ineffective (or we are ineffective at getting them the ball), then Self has a choice of options depending on who else started: Moss for outside shooting, Agbaji for defense & athleticsm or Braun for consistency, trust, hustle. Starting four guards leaves only one pre-determined guard option to come off the bench, and Mac, Silvio, and Enaruna not much involved.

Bryce Landon 2 years ago

Give Moss the game ball for sure! He came up big when we needed someone to step up! Also loved the way Udoka was a beast at the basket!

And I'm with Barry; start Moss in place of Ochai, who has been ineffective for long stretches this season so far.

While this doesn't fully erase the stench of losing at home last time out, beating the Evil Empire that is OU always puts an extra spring in my step. I hate the Sooners, and I hate the way we lost our last two trips down to Norman, so a victory there is pretty cool. :)

Steve Zimmerman 2 years ago

Even though we won without DDot, Dok's 100% FTs, Moss' crazy 3s surely gave us a good feel. We should've dominated this less stellar OU team by 20 or more pts though. We played good D, but still limited by our so-so good offense. Seriously, Dok had no match inside. Lobs came only in the 2nd half. Playing 2 bigs (forget about Silvio) but only 15 touches are not effective offense.

Moss has been great, who can create his own score and made 50% of 'em. Garrett was stellar, assuming team's floor general, and kept on driving dangerously (he needs to dunk it whenever he can - he had those opportunities). He dribbles too much going to the basket when he could've taken off way earlier to gain more advantage & unpredictable move. Could've scored more if he hits the FTs.

We gave up 8 Offensive rebounds to a smaller team - watch the tape again, our team did a poor job boxing out. No one runs toward the closest opponent and seal the entrance when a ball is launched, all of them are watching the ball.

Ochai has been MIA, but I like his lob to McCormack! He should've done more of those tosses while driving - instead of throwing a floater against 2 defenders.

RJ King 2 years ago

Steve ... you say, "We gave up 8 Offensive rebounds to a smaller team ..." You're missing context.

OU missed 43 shots and grabbed 8 O-Rebs (18.6%) KU grabbed 35 of those defensive rebounds (81.4%)

KU missed 32 shots and grabbed 11 O-Rebs (34.4%) OU grabbed 24 of those defensive rebounds (75.0%)

*Free throw misses/rebounds skews the numbers, but not by much.

KU out-rebounded 46-32 total.

Oklahoma missed 21 threes - LONG caroms often go the the team that shot it.

KU played 30 minutes with a four-guard lineup, so only bigger 25% of game.

Dotson is tied for 4th in Rebs/game. Played zero minutes.

Not arguing poor job boxing out, but I think you're being a little picky given the reality.

Steve Zimmerman 2 years ago

RJ, I appreciate your stats -I got your point; an eye opening to a mere observer like me. There's always room for improvement, not trying to be picky. I want us to be the best team they can be.

Michael Maris 2 years ago

Hopefully, the OU performance will give Moss the 3 point shooting confidence that we fans have been waiting for this season. And, Moss will become more prominent in the scoring column. Other Jayhawk players will benefit as well with Moss increased scoring.

Joe Baker 2 years ago

Moss is a true 2 guard. Ochai has the build of a 2 but plays like a 3. Moss is not a 3.

Dale Rogers 2 years ago

When Dok does NOT do the hand thing lining up the shot before shooting the free throw he usually makes the shot. When he first tries to line it up with his hand and arm he usually misses the shot. I am guessing the difference is he does better when he does not think too much about it, he just shoots.

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