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Kansas defeats Michigan State, 87-74

  • 6 p.m., Nov. 9, 2021
  • Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Senior guard Ochai Agbaji explodes for career-high 29 points to lead No. 3 Kansas past Michigan State at Champions Classic

Kansas' Ochai Agbaji (30) dunks the ball in front of Michigan State's Malik Hall (25) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Kansas' Ochai Agbaji (30) dunks the ball in front of Michigan State's Malik Hall (25) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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New York — Kansas senior Ochai Agbaji recently admitted that he occasionally found himself daydreaming about what life would be like right now if he had elected to jump to the NBA instead of returning to college.

Tuesday night, inside an NBA arena, no less, Agbaji showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the college game still suits him just fine.

Playing like a man possessed and a wily veteran on a court with a bunch of youngsters, the senior from Kansas City, Mo., exploded for a career-high 29 points to lead third-ranked Kansas past Michigan State, 87-74 at the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden.

Agbaji’s 29-point outburst was the eighth 20-point game of his career and the highest single-game total scored by a Jayhawk at the Champions Classic.

In the 11-year history of the event, just seven other Jayhawks have topped 20 points in a Champions Classic game.

To put that in perspective, Agbaji is now averaging 20.3 points per game for his career at the Champions Classic.

“He was terrific tonight,” Kansas coach Bill Self said after the victory. “He’s had some big games in the past, but I don’t know if he’s had a bigger game on a bigger stage (under) bright lights. We had a lot of individuals labor from an offensive stance, and he just basically carried us. I was really happy for him and he was really good.”

Agbaji shot 9-of-17 from the floor, 3-of-6 from 3-point range and cashed all eight of his free throw attempts.

He finished in traffic, dropped in three highlight-reel dunks and even added two steals and a couple of rebounds to his final stat line.

After each of the dunks, Agbaji flashed something that was not always there in the past — attitude.

Whether it was the look of being amused or energized by the big finish or even the cockier version, which carried with it the body language that seemed to say, ‘This game’s too easy,’ Agbaji’s performance was befitting of a senior leader who was projected to be an all-conference player during the preseason.

“There’s still another step he has to take in order to be an elite player,” Self said. “And that is he’s got to become an assassin. He certainly did that tonight.”

The act was so convincing that freshman guard Bobby Pettiford made sure to take time out to tell Agbaji on the court exactly what he thought of his big night.

“I told Ochai he’s the best player in the country,” Pettiford said. “And I truly believe that. (I told him that) on the court because I wanted him to close the game out. He’s our best player, so let’s get this win.”

Added fellow-freshman Zach Clemence, offering his perspective of Agbaji’s night: “Ochai’s crazy. He’s just a freak. He’s an unbelievable player.”

Clemence and Pettiford, along with fellow-freshman KJ Adams, all contributed to Tuesday’s victory, be it on offense or defense. In his postgame meeting with the media, Agbaji listed one key play made by each and settled on Adams’ vicious block at the halftime buzzer as his favorite of the bunch.

KU point guard Remy Martin agreed.

Asked if he knew Agbaji had a game like Tuesday’s in him, Martin — Agbaji’s roommate — laughed at the question.

“Yeah, man. I practice with this guy all the time. And the stuff he does in practice, he deserves it,” said Martin, who tallied 15 points and six rebounds after a strong second half. “He puts in the work and he can have a night like that any night. He’s just a player.”

Through all of the superlatives that described a sensational opening night by KU’s most experienced player, Agbaji was the first to give credit to those praising him.

At no point during Tuesday’s victory did he ever think about his night, his numbers or what he was doing to put up numbers. His goal, like that of his teammates, was simply to find a way to score one more point than the Spartans (0-1).

“Just lead my team, will my team,” he said of his mindset on Tuesday night. “They all trust me and kept me confident throughout the game. It’s just great knowing that they have my back.”

After a back-and-forth first half ended with Kansas (1-0) leading by seven at the break (39-32), Agbaji found a way to spark some separation.

He finished a lob out of a timeout to put Kansas back up five after MSU had wrestled away the momentum and trimmed the Kansas lead to three. And he followed that up with a steal and a one-handed hammer dunk to bump the lead back to seven. Just like that, all of the work the Spartans had done to cut into the halftime lead was erased. Less than five minutes later, the Jayhawks were up by double-digits and they never looked back.

The signature moment of Tuesday’s victory came with 9:25 to play, when Christian Braun (six points, eight rebounds in 34 minutes) hit Agbaji for a transition lob that put the Jayhawks up 69-54.

The two delivered drastically different reactions to the play.

Braun roared like a mad man toward the Kansas bench as the Garden crowd joined him. And Agbaji, the senior version who learned so many valuable things from his NBA combine experience this summer, responded with a slow-motion walk and smirk.

He knew the game was over at that point. And everyone in the building probably did, as well. It was moments just like that, and the joy that comes with them, that aided Agbaji in making his decision to come back to Kansas for one more run.

“For this,” he said of the reason behind his return. “To be on this stage, be in this moment and lead my team and will my team to a win.”

Comments

David Kelley-Wood 2 months, 2 weeks ago

What 90% of the rest of Division I wouldn't give just for KU's "redshirt squad!"

And, if Duke's lead in the 2nd game holds up, we'll pull with 3 games of Kentucky on the all-time wins list. Life is good.

Tony Bandle 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Random Thoughts:

1] I think we might be pretty OK this year.

2] I guarantee you all if we catch and pass UK in victories, they will come up with 30 or 40 more that were "lost" sometime in the past.

3] OH MY OCHAI !!!

4] Looking at the schedule; it is possible that we could be 12-0 on News Year Day.

5] Nice to see Holly Rowe.

6] I spent the entire Duke/UK game going through the rule books to see if there was any way to give both teams a loss!! NO LUCK, DAMMIT!

7] A big win without one of our best players. That tall freshmen kid could be a true star in a couple of years.

8] May have been the All-Time Winner of the NCAA Ugliest Coaches Game!

Tony Bandle 2 months, 2 weeks ago

PS. OOPS..I was thinking of Rat Face and Bulldog Tom. sorry, Bill Self looked like Prince Charming compared to the other three guys. :)

Andy Godwin 2 months, 2 weeks ago

It was nice to see that Ochai Agbaji came ready to play to start the official 2021-2022 season. Clearly, he took it to heart what he needs to improve to elevate his chances to play at the next level. Hopefully he will stay healthy and continue to play at a high level (29 points on 17 shots is a great ratio, 2 rebounds, and 2 steals AND zero turnovers). His stellar play covered up some of the not so good nights for others on offense (e.g., McCormack 10 points on 11 shots, Braun 6 points on 7 shots, and Harris, 6 points on 7 shots). The surprise of the night for me was Zac Clemence (7 points on 3 shots, 1 rebound and 2 steals in only 4 minutes). However, between McCormack (4), Lightfoot (4), and Clemence (3) they were called for 11 of KU’s 20 fouls. The good news for KU last night was that MSU was poor at the line (9-16 including missing the front end of a few 1 and 1’s) or the outcome could have been much closer. Another positive as a team, KU scored 31 baskets on 13 assists and ONLY committed 9 turnovers. Finally, I don't recall when coach Self played 11 players in a highly contested game, and that was with a starter (Wilson) sitting out. I don't know how the season will pan out (12 players getting minutes game in and game out – highly unlikely), but I would like to see more of KJ Adams (loved his energy) and Clemence.

Ted Hume 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Zach is going to be great, not this year but man, his soph. leap will be cole aldrich-like with the addition of a killer 3-ball. smart move to put Cam Martin in our pocket to have him as a veteran backup big to Zach next season. he'll be next year's Lightfoot

Barry Weiss 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Hey Matt, if you see this and know, I thought Ochai had a monster game way, way back in his first game as a freshman that was, I thought around 30 points. Obviously I was wrong. Any idea how many he poured in that night?

Matt Tait 2 months, 2 weeks ago

24 points... 8-of-10 shooting... 35 minutes. Definitely a monster night for a kid in his first ever start.

Dale Stringer 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Braun is so vexing. His defense looks so slow, but he'll come through with some amazing stops. I think he is one of the better passers on the team and right now I want him doing the alley oops to everyone else. BUT, he is supposed to be a 3-pt threat. How can he be that if never takes the shot? He only shot twice and missed both. That is not a 3-pt threat. He consistently passed up the open shot. Mostly because he had to because he was too busy trying to decide if he should take the open shot and the defense closed in. So come on Braun, shoot the ball more.

Barry Weiss 2 months, 2 weeks ago

agree, but at least he really carried us on the boards. For only being 6'5", he is tough in the paint (rebounding wise)

Benjamin Shear 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Obiter Dictum:

*It was cool seeing HCBS wear a retro Jayhawk logo on his shirt, I approve!

*Agbaji is amazing. However, we all knew he can play like this. His issue was never talent, it was consistency. Hopefully he is able to bring it all season long.

*McCormack seems...about the same as last year. He always looks stiff to me and rushed. He only played 22 minutes, but got 10 points.

*Give me more of Clemence! He only played 4 minutes but had 7 points! He is a very different style big than what HCBS normally has. I can't wait to see how he develops.

*At this point, if I were HCBS, I would just play whoever is play D. All of his players are talented and can make buckets. Not all of them defended well (mostly in the first half).

*Finally, let's all take a moment and appreciate how fast and quick Pettiford is. He seems to truly have elite speed, very fun to watch.

Blake Brown 2 months, 2 weeks ago

The biggest takeaway for me was the young guys performances. First, I wondered who was going to be redshirted and was surprised to see all but Cam play, but happy all contributed quality plays in limited minutes. We`re not that big and our interior defense was not good nor was our defensive blocking out and rebounding. Mac gets 2 rebounds? Shot selection, especially was not good either. Lots of things still to put together and time to do it with personnel and coaching that can get it done. A good start. Rock Chalk!

Thomas Harrison 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Let's get Wilson into the 4 position, then we can ROLL!!! Rock Chalk!

Scott MacWilliams 2 months, 2 weeks ago

ROCK CHALK OCHAI HAWK!!! Congrats Ochai on a truly inspired game! Of course this means you are going to draw each teams best defender for the rest of the year. Frankly, I don't think it will be a problem...

Dirk Medema 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Dale - Agree on Braun. He plays smart, which is why Coach has been confident in him from the beginning. I would add that being a 3 pt threat is more about the other team’s perception than actual performance. If other teams are emphasizing 3D against him, then it probably means that something else is opening up. It might also mean that he realized during warmups that he wasn’t shooting the ball well. In football, they’ll commonly talk about a kicker was good from # yds in warmup as a deciding factor about when to go for the FG or not. As long as CB continues to make smart decisions, we’ll be good.

How long it takes him to shoot gets back to what Coach talked about recently; the pt 5 rule. Needs to shoot faster if he’s going to shoot or continue to make smart moves. If others continue to shoot well from 3, there will be plenty of opportunities for CB to go off. And we know he can.

James Donnell 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Braun does some good things—sometimes lots of them, but he has been SO inconsistent. Looked like last year was carrying over. Hope he can break out of this. His shot was way off and he made two horrible passes for turnovers. He really is not a great passer and can’t drive it and finish, unless he has an open lane and a dunk. But he is a great rebounder. Is it possible that Wilson will replace him in the starting line-up?? Hard to imagine Harris, Wilson, or Martin not starting.

Steve Zimmerman 2 months, 2 weeks ago

33 projected draft... ummm, if he keeps playing aggressively with the kind of hot shooting like this, plus better foot work, Ochai will be in the top 10 by season's end. He showed us his improvements in getting to the FT, ball handling, creating separation and plays for himself; and hopefully, we'll see him consistently raining those 3s.

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