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Kansas defeats Texas-El Paso, 67-62

  • 7 p.m., March 4, 2021
  • Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, KS

Thursday, March 4, 2021

No. 13 Kansas survives scare from UTEP en route to 67-62 win in regular-season finale

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) clenches his fist after the Jayhawks' pulled off a 67-62 comeback win over UTEP on Thursday, March 4, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) clenches his fist after the Jayhawks' pulled off a 67-62 comeback win over UTEP on Thursday, March 4, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse.

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Despite leading for just 1:26 of Thursday’s 40-minute game, the 13th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks survived a scare from UTEP, closing with clamp-down defense and enough offense to prevail, 67-62, at Allen Fieldhouse.

The frantic final five minutes featured enough memorable plays and missed opportunities by both teams to fill a small novel.

But when it came down to it, the Kansas defense that has been almost solely responsible for the Jayhawks’ late-season turnaround delivered possession after possession to keep KU coach Bill Self from regretting scheduling the game.

“I was pissed at my sport administrator at about 8 o’clock,” Self joked after the victory. “But post-8:30 I’m glad. We needed to win the game without question. But it was a real game. This was not a tune-up game. And it had an NCAA Tournament feel from the standpoint that you labor, you labor, things don’t go well, but it’s a long game. So it was good to play through that.”

That was exactly what the Jayhawks had to do for most of the night. And it was evident early on that it would be that kind of game.

Self spent much of the game’s first nine minutes playing musical chairs with the Kansas bench, constantly sitting guys and sending them back in while trying to find some kind of combination that clicked.

Meanwhile, UTEP, which was looking for its fifth consecutive victory and a signature win heading into the Conference USA tournament, played loose and got whatever it wanted offensively thanks to the strong play of forward Bryson Williams.

Williams, who finished with a game-high 23 points on 9-of-19 shooting, helped the Miners (12-11 overall, 8-8 C-USA) race out to early leads 13-4, 18-7 and 28-16 before taking a 34-20 lead into halftime.

After a second-chance layup by Christian Braun tied the game at 2, the Jayhawks missed their next 10 shots and went scoreless for 5:19.

The drought finally ended when Dajuan Harris — Self’s pick for the best player in a Kansas uniform on Thursday night — hit a pair of free throws with 12:52 to play in the first half that pulled the Jayhawks within 11-4.

KU did not have to wait nearly as long for its next points. Ochai Agbaji hit a corner 3 1:25 later and pulled the Jayhawks to within six at 13-7 with 11:27 to play in the half.

That stretch was a mere microcosm for most of the rest of the game, as the Jayhawks hung around but never could quite break through to put some pressure on UTEP.

That all changed in the final eight minutes.

After Williams’ final bucket of the game put UTEP up 55-46 with 8:03 to play, KU big man David McCormack went nuts and willed Kansas back into it.

McCormack, who scored two points on 1-of-6 shooting in the first half, scored eight straight points to cut the UTEP lead to one (55-54) with just over five minutes remaining.

That’s when the highlights really started to show up, and they came on both ends.

Kansas (19-8 overall, 12-6 Big 12) never would have won this game without its defense down the stretch. But McCormack chose to point to another key element of Thursday’s win while talking after the victory.

“We just had heart,” he said. “This game was very important. It teaches us how to play from behind, show our competitiveness and close the game properly.”

KU did all of those, with contributions from McCormack, Harris, Agbaji and Marcus Garrett being most crucial.

In addition to a driving layup that cut the UTEP lead back down to one with 4:34 to play, Harris delivered the pass of the night to keep KU alive.

Agbaji, who Self said “kept us in there” in the first half, drilled a 3-pointer from the far corner opposite the KU bench after catching a pass from Harris who was trapped on the other side of the lane and had to find somewhere to go with the ball.

“I was just waiting for him to go to the corner,” Harris said with a smile after sharing that his first read was to Braun on the wing.

Agbaji, who finished with a team-high 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting, buried the triple to pull Kansas back within a point at 60-59.

It was at that point that officials reviewed a previous 3-point make by UTEP and ruled that the player’s foot was on the line. That took a point off the board for the visitors and made it a tie game at 59-all with 3:39 to play.

“That was big time,” Self said of the pass from Harris to Agbaji. “There’s no chance we win the game today without Dajuan.”

The backup point guard finished with six points , two assists and two steals in 25 minutes. But none were bigger than his two free throws with 17.5 seconds to play that pushed KU’s lead from two to four.

Those charity shots came after Garrett scored two hard-driving layups in the final three minutes. The first gave KU its first lead of the night at 62-60 with 2:42 remaining. And the second gave KU the lead for good at 64-62 with 22.4 seconds to play.

Perhaps bigger than either of Garrett’s late baskets was his defense on Williams down the stretch. KU assistant coach Norm Roberts suggested that the Jayhawks put Garrett on Williams defensively late in the game and Self elected to do it for several possessions. The move neutralized Williams and energized Kansas.

“It was a good move for us,” Self said. “Of course, the unfortunate thing is, when you put him on Williams, it takes him off of (UTEP guard Souley Boum, 16 points). You can't guard them both.

“There were no 15-point plays,” Self added. “But I would’ve tried about everything.”

One of the only shot attempts Williams got with Garrett on him came late in the game, when he spun to the baseline, drove under the rim and airballed a reverse layup on the side he just came abandoned.

Warts and all, Self said he was “absolutely” pleased that the Jayhawks played Thursday’s game because it gave them an opportunity to stay sharp and learn yet another lesson heading into the postseason.

“We needed a game like this,” Self said. “And I’m leaving out of here feeling good. The fact that we didn’t panic, I think, was a good sign.”

Comments

Garry Wright 9 months, 1 week ago

This game was possibly the best thing that could have happened to KU in getting ready for the Big Dance. We'll probably be a 4 seed, facing a 13 seed to begin with, could become a 3 seed facing a 14 seed. Hopefully our guys learned NEVER take an opponent lightly which was possibly part of our problem. We were favored to win by 18. We spotted them 14 in the 1st half and won the second half by 19. I'll take it though the first 30 minutes were a bit tough on me!

Blake Brown 9 months, 1 week ago

It might have been good for the team but it was challenging for me to watch the first 3/4. How can any college player be on the floor and not give 100% effort and not play with passion, enthusiasm and excitement? And that's an individual consideration let alone from a team standpoint.

Garry Wright 9 months, 1 week ago

Because they are 18 - 22 years old. They have a lot of growing up to do as did all of us at that age. it's very easy to see how they took their opponent way to lightly. What we should appreciate about our Hawks is how they finally woke up and were able to turn the game around. That's not an easy task, especially when you're well into the second half.

Tony Bandle 9 months, 1 week ago

Random Thoughts:

1] GLASS HALF FULL - we come back from 15 points down in the second half to win against a team, maybe, playing the games of their lives, while we played one of our worst first halves in decades.

2] GLASS HALF EMPTY - How the heck did we get down 15 to a .500 record mid major in our own building after beating the #2 team in the country????!!!

3] Should Marcus stay or go next season.....based on the talent staying here and the talent coming in, it's a toss up. I do think He would be wise to upgrade his NBA portfolio one more year at KU.

4] If anyone on the team didn't know that there is no room for over confidence.......well, they sure as heck know right now!!!

5] A terrible win is better than a beautiful loss. I think it was Confucius who said that...or maybe it was Mark Twain. :)

Bryce Landon 9 months, 1 week ago

It was a great last 10 minutes of the game, no question. But it never should have been like that; the Jayhawks should have been ready to play from the opening tip. That first 30 minutes, Kansas looked like the New York Knicks out there. To get fitted for clown suits by a Conference USA team that entered the game barely above .500, and in our own arena, was straight-up despicable. To use Homer Simpson's words, KU was the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked.

Thankfully, Kansas finally remembered that they were Kansas and started playing like it in the final 10 minutes. They finally started playing tough, they made the big plays when they were needed, they made clutch free throws down the stretch, and they finally won the game - a game that never should have been scheduled in the first place, by the way. It reminded me of KU's come-from-behind victory over Purdue in the 2012 NCAA Tournament Round of 32, and had me going from cursing at my phone (from which I was streaming the radio broadcast of the game) to roaring in triumph!

Jerry Walker 9 months, 1 week ago

None of the writers asked Coach Self about Jalen Wilson riding the bench the second half.

I sure don't know if he had some kind of physical ailment but to a fan he played flat-footed defensively and appeared to be uninterested or uninspired.

Keith Gellar 9 months, 1 week ago

IDK how anyone can think this was a great game. Seriously...pass the kool aid. I could use some.

We are this close to the tourney beginning. If we can't get our act together now, there is no hope. For a team with Veteran leaders and the best coach in the business, this is totally unexpected. i can understand if we were marred by major injuries...but that's not the case.

Here's to hoping we can get past the first weekend in the tourney. I have serious doubts now.

Grady Millikan 9 months, 1 week ago

Cause it's difficult to get up for a game like that this time of year, played awful for 30 minutes, couldn't make shot early on, and still found a way to win. It gives them confidence that they can do that now when it inevitably happens in the tourney

Blake Brown 9 months, 1 week ago

I just don't understand how any game is difficult to get up for especially when its the 27th game you've played.

Keith Gellar 9 months, 1 week ago

To add - had we lost, all the posters would still be saying "Good loss! I'd rather we lose right before the tourney so they get more hungrier for the tourney" or "this loss is meaningless" or some other garbage like that.

Tony Bandle 9 months, 1 week ago

Not this poster. No such thing as a "good loss"...not if you're competing to win it all. 40 - 0 every year would be perfectly fine with me!!

Bob Zielinski 9 months, 1 week ago

I think it is unfair to criticize UTEP as a team and say KU looked terrible against a .500 mid-major school. The team that shows up for any one game can be superior to any other effort that team has put together up to that point in the season. They are Division I athletes and fully capable of playing well. UTEP also is not a mid-major (to pick nits).

One thing that will have me coming unglued for certain is if McCormack does another one of his slam dunks that sends the ball bounding 30 ft in the air again. That cannot happen in the Tournament.

Blake Brown 9 months, 1 week ago

The ole comment that something is as easy as a slam dunk somehow got lost on MaCormack. Of all of the records KU has seen this season, they have to have broken the most missed slam dunks record in college history.

Barry Weiss 9 months, 1 week ago

That first half was painful to watch. For the game we got hammered on the boards and our free throw shooting was not good. But we won and probably learned more from this than we would with a 20 point win.

Michael Maris 9 months, 1 week ago

Didn't get to see the game. So, I am only able to see stats, storyline and post game comments. How many wins would this team have without David McCormack? Self seems to have fallen in love with his 4 guard offensive system.

Personally, I loved watching a Jayhawks team who played with a True 4 & 5 man in the front court. Yes, there are times when a 4 guard system may be needed to change a tempo. But, KU doesn't have consistent 3 point shooting (game in and game out) to justify such offensive strategy each and every season.

In my opinion, T. Enaruna is a huge disappointment. He physically looks the part, but he seems out of place and lost virtually every game.

There seems to be an internal problem with this team.

Just thoughts and opinions on watching the this team in the 2020/2021 season.

Jonathan Allison 9 months, 1 week ago

So looking ahead to the conference tournament KU is likely going to be the #3 seed if WVU takes care of OSU tomorrow. If OSU can defeat WVU then KU moves into the #2 spot.

If KU remains in the #3 spot then they will face the #6 seed which will almost certainly be TTU but could theoretically also feature OSU.

If KU slides up to the #2 spot then KU will await the winner of the 7/10 game which will feature OU and ISU and most likely result in KU vs. OU.

So who would we rather face to open the Big 12 tourney? OU, OSU, or TTU? In the AP rankings the three teams are ranked 16, 17, and 18 respectively (with KU at 13).

The NET rankings show TTU at 12, OSU at 30, OU at 33 (KU, 15)

The Kenpom rankings show TTU at 19, OU and OSU at 35 and 36 (KU, 23)

And ESPNs BPI rankings show TTU at 8, OU at 27, and OSU at 51 (KU, 19)

And for good measure, the old fashioned RPI has OSU at 15, OU at 47, and TTU at 49 (KU, 16)

I do not believe that TTU is better than KU, but of the three teams, before and after looking at the rankings I was thinking that KU would be better against OSU.

But then looking at the schedules, OU is currently in the midst of a 4 game losing streak and losers of 5 of their last 10, while OSU has won 7 of their last 10 including a sweep of in-state rival OU. So I have to think that OU probably is the weakest of the three at the moment.

However, KU's most likely opening opponent is TTU in the 3/6 matchup. With the winner likely to face WVU in the semifinal.

Jonathan Allison 9 months, 1 week ago

Meanwhile in the bluegrass state. UK is sitting a 7-9 in the SEC and 8-15 overall with one regular season game remaining (a likely win over the mighty gamecocks).

Let's figure KU picks up 4 more wins on the season and ends the year at 23-10 and UK picks up 2 wins and winds up at 10-16.

According to Matt's blog in December KU came into the season trailing UK by 16 wins on the all-time list.

http://www2.kusports.com/weblogs/tale-tait/2020/dec/29/could-kansas-move-past-kentucky-as-colle/

The kenpom predictions held very close to true with KU ending the regular season at 19-8 vs a predicted 19-7 and with UK ending the regular season at likely 9-15 vs a predicted 10-15

If KU wins 4 games in the postseason and UK beats SC and then wins one game in the post-season then KU ends the year trailing UK by just 3 games on the all-time wins list.

The year may not result in any rings or trophies, but possibly closing that gap down to 3 wins makes the year quite remarkable anyhow.

Jonathan Allison 9 months, 1 week ago

and of course the possibility is still alive (albeit unlikely) for KU to surpass UK by seasons end.... If KU wins out the year they will pick up three wins in the conference tourney and 6 in the NCAAs, winding up at 28-8.

If UK loses to SC and picks up zero wins in the post-season they end the year at 9 wins, and KU will lead on the all-time wins list by 3.

The possibility also remains that KU scores no more wins this year and the gap ends up at around 7 wins plus or minus a couple

Garry Wright 9 months, 1 week ago

If OSU beats Baylor we play TTU. If OSU loses, then we will play OSU. I'd rather play TTU, but who knows what will happen. That's why we play the games. I'm always hoping to gain in total wins concerning UK. I never dreamed we'd gain this much this year. No matter how it plays out, we will have gained a lot on them. It would be great just to gain some more on them let alone catch up with them or past them.

Mallory Briggans 9 months, 1 week ago

The smallest man on the floor Harris Jr . had a definite hand in the 2nd half turn-around . He was active on the defensive end along with Garrett was a momentum changer. This team will have to depend on its defense moving forward because our offense is too inconsistent . 27 games in... this team should not be down 15 points to a 10 loss mid-major on your home court ......ever ! If we would lost last night ...then beating Baylor didnt do much for a confidence builder

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