Before the season began, not a whole lot was expected out of David McCormack during his freshman year with the Kansas basketball program.
It wasn’t that the 6-foot-10 forward from prep powerhouse Oak Hill Academy lacked potential. It was just that McCormack was joining what looked like a very crowded frontcourt, with 7-footer Udoka Azubuike, 6-9 forwards Dedric Lawson and Silvio De Sousa and 6-8 Mitch Lightfoot all possesing more experience than the freshman.
Of course, McCormack’s expectations have changed significantly since then. Azubuike suffered a season-ending wrist injury and De Sousa was ruled ineligible by the NCAA. What’s more, as KU lost two potential starting guards for an unknown amount of time due to Marcus Garrett’s injured ankle and Lagerald Vick’s leave of absence, all of the sudden Kansas needed McCormack — now.
After not playing a single minute in KU’s road loss at Kansas State on Feb. 5, McCormack was thrust into the starting lineup. The freshman big man went from rarely playing 10 minutes in a game to hearing his name called during pre-game introductions.
The Jayhawks (19-6 overall, 8-4 Big 12) are 2-0 with McCormack in the starting five, with wins against OSU and TCU. But that doesn’t mean his transition to a new role has been easy.
As McCormack continues getting used to starting he said both Azubuike and De Sousa have helped him out by offering up some advice.
“Don’t try to go out and make home run plays and be a superstar,” said McCormack, relating their message. “Just do what you know how to do and do what you do best, and you can work your way up to doing things like that. That’ll benefit the team in the times that it counts.”
Playing alongside more established members of KU’s rotation, McCormack hasn’t been asked to do much. Through his first two starts he’s scored 4 total points (with all of them coming at TCU) while playing a combined 31 minutes. He’s just 1 for 6 from the floor as a starter, but is averaging 4.0 rebounds a game, plus 1.0 blocks and no turnovers.
Sometimes McCormack is running so hard or such a ball of energy inside while positioning for a rebound or posting up that it appears he’s trying to do too much. His shots inside have looked hurried, too, and sometimes the ball gets away from his hands as he goes after a rebound or entry pass.
Effort and want-to clearly aren’t issues for him. McCormack said what he must continue to work on is slowing things down.
“I know right now I’m not the playmaker type, the go-to guy,” he said. “But I know if I need to set a ball screen or get a specific rebound that’s my job to do and make sure I do that properly.”
KU coach Bill Self has praised one such aspect of McCormack’s impact repeatedly. The freshman’s footwork allows him to defend ball screens effectively on the perimeter.
The 6-10, 265-pound forward said he’s been working on his ball screen defense “a while,” predating his time at KU.
“I knew that was going to be a big thing, coming into college, just working on my lateral movement and speed,” McCormack said, adding coaches and Azubuike talk with him regularly about little things that can make him even more functional in that role. “Getting out and hedging the ball screen but making sure I get back quick, as well.”
With only six games left in the regular season, McCormack is currently one of four freshmen starting for KU — though that could change when Garrett is cleared to play.
Self and his staff ask much more of guards Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji and Quentin Grimes than they do of McCormack. But the big man who was a McDonald’s All-American just a year ago is happy to be contributing with his fellow freshmen.
“Other than youthfulness I think we all bring energy in our own way,” McCormack said. “Devon is just speedy, fast. You know, he does what he can in leading. And as you can see, Ochai, coach says he has like a model-type smile. He always has great energy, great positivity. I just bring as much energy as I can as far as rebounding. And Q just tries to bring people together, as well. So I think we just connect people in our own way.”
At some point, everything will begin clicking for McCormack, and he’ll provide KU with even more. Maybe it will happen this season, or maybe it will show when he’s a sophomore. In the meantime, he’ll keep doing the little things that can help, as advised by the big men who were supposed to be playing in front of him this season.
At no point in the past couple of weeks did Bill Self give his team a directive to shoot more 3-pointers.
But since the calendar flipped to February, the Jayhawks have definitely been more ready and likely to fire away from beyond the arc.
On the season, KU is averaging 20.7 3-point attempts per game with a 35.9% success rate. Through 12 Big 12 games, the Jayhawks are averaging 21.4 3-point tries and hitting 35.8%. But in the past four games, KU is hoisting 27.3 per game from downtown and connecting on 36.7% of those looks.
The upward trend began after Kansas only took 18 3-pointers in its double-digit loss at Texas. As Self pointed out during his weekly press conference on Thursday, the escalation in attempts wasn’t as much a shift in philosophy as it was a byproduct of another type of adjustment.
“We will shoot more 3’s if Dedric plays away from the basket,” Self said, “because that’s another guy that can shoot a 3 away from the basket. We’ve shot more. But I do believe that Dedric has contributed to that, because he’s probably shooting four or five a game himself, where he was probably averaging one a game before that. That could be it.”
Indeed, since Self tweaked the offense to relocate Lawson to the perimeter, the redshirt junior big man has shot 9 for 19 from 3-point range in the past four games. In the 21 games before that Lawson went a combined 11 for 39, attempting only 1.9 3-pointers a game.
With Lawson providing No. 14 Kansas (19-6 overall, 8-4 Big 12) with a new offensive wrinkle, the Jayhawks made a season-high 13 from deep in beating Texas Tech, and with 11 makes against Oklahoma State, KU hit double figures in 3-pointers for just the fifth time this season.
Obviously Lawson hasn’t done this all by himself. As the Jayhawks also have adjusted to playing without Marcus Garrett (injured ankle) and Lagerald Vick (leave of absence), Lawson and three oh his teammates have put up between four and five 3-pointers apiece during the past four games:
Lawson, 9 for 19
Ochai Agbaji, 8 for 19
Devon Dotson, 8 for 17
Quentin Grimes, 7 for 21
Rest of the team, 8 for 33
Self isn’t complaining about his team’s increased reliance on the 3-point arc. Even though freshman guard Grimes, as KU’s coach put it, “hasn’t really gotten on a roll yet offensively,” Grimes took a team-high eight 3-pointers at TCU earlier this week.
It was the second-most long-range attempts in a game for Grimes this season, a campaign that began with him going 6 for 10 against Michigan State.
“But they were good looks,” Self said of Grimes’ 1-for-8 night at TCU. “They were open.”
In that same Big Monday victory, Dotson delivered a career-high four 3-pointers on a career-high seven attempts. And the third freshman guard in the starting lineup, Agbaji, went 2 for 6.
Overall, KU went 9 for 30 from distance in Fort Worth, Texas. It was just the second time this season the Jayhawks attempted 30 3-pointers, and the other came three games earlier, in a home win over Texas Tech (13 for 30).
“Maybe confidence with the young guys is probably a reason why,” Self hypothesized of another factor in KU’s 3-point attempts being on the rise. “But I also think Dedric playing away from the basket.”
Perhaps the Jayhawks are just riding the wave created by a pre-game video message from Devonte’ Graham, who told them before the Texas Tech win something along the lines of, “I don’t care what coach says. Shoot the ball.”
Whatever it is, it seems to be working for these Jayhawks. As they head into the home stretch of the regular season, while they’ll need to connect at a better clip than the 30% that they shot in their win at TCU, the absence of their best 3-point shooter, Vick (66 for 145), hasn’t led to a noticeable dropoff in productivity in that category.
In part, that’s because KU’s other 3-point threats are more likely to take open looks now than they were earlier in the season.
“I feel like everybody’s getting a lot more comfortable with the offense,” Grimes said, “and what we can do out there from a standpoint of what coach wants, and then from an individual standpoint of what we can do out there on the court.”
Grimes, who is 33 for 100 on the season and 17 for 53 in Big 12 play, said the Jayhawks just need to take good shots. That means not rushing their 3-pointers, or taking them early in the shot clock, or when two defenders are closing and an extra pass is available.
“I feel like all the shots that we’ve been taking have been pretty good shots, even if they’re misses,” Grimes said of KU’s recent 3-point shot selection.
His teammates have said all season that Grimes is one of the best shooters on the team. And he may in fact prove himself to be one in the weeks ahead.
In the meantime, with no timetable for Vick’s return in place, it is becoming clear that KU has other reliable shooters. As Nick Schwerdt, host of KLWN’s “Rock Chalk Sports Talk” recently pointed out, Vick isn’t the only Jayhawk ranked among the Big 12 leaders in 3-point shooting during conference play.
Three active Jayhawks, in fact, are shooting 40% or better in league games:
Dotson, 13 for 30 (43.3%)
Agbaji, 14 for 33 (42.4%)
Lawson, 14 for 35 (40%)
With or without Vick, Kansas has capable 3-point shooters. And, more importantly, they are more comfortable and confident in taking those shots now.
When Dotson, Agbaji and Lawson are open beyond the arc, consider it a successful offensive possession every time they shoot.
And remember: open 3-pointers for Grimes are good shots, too. KU needs to get the freshman into a groove sooner rather than later, and he’s never going to get there without being assertive.
The Jayhawks are going to need 3-pointers to peak offensively, so they may as well embrace the concept of taking them when they’re open.
As currently comprised, the Kansas roster is too flawed overall for the Jayhawks to play the type of aesthetically pleasing basketball that has characterized so many of their predecessors coached by Bill Self.
But they have now proven, most importantly to themselves, that they can offset some of their depth, ball handling and shooting deficiencies with one of the qualities that their coach appreciates most.
By winning on the road for a change Monday night at TCU, and withstanding the Horned Frogs’ late rally when they’ve collapsed under similar circumstances earlier this season, the Jayhawks displayed some true mental toughness.
When so many other away games took turns in the wrong direction for KU in the final minutes of regulation, scrapping to overcome those potentially haunting memories made what the group accomplished while plagued by foul trouble late in Fort Worth, Texas, all the more extraordinary.
A familiar KU imperfection reared its ugly head late in the second half, as what was once a 12-point lead with 9 minutes to go completely disappeared by the 2:48 mark of regulation, with the Jayhawks gift-wrapping the Horned Frogs’ surge with 7 turnovers in a little more than 6 minutes.
“We knew the crowd was getting into it,” freshman point guard Devon Dotson said of what had all the trademarks of a devastating, outcome-swinging run for TCU, “and, you know, we made some silly mistakes, myself included. But we just wanted to stay together. We said all week, just keep trusting in one another and keep battling and everything will work out.”
Even down 4 with 2:07 left in regulation, this team, which prior to Monday had only won on the road this season by building a massive second-half lead at Baylor, found a way to crawl out of a self-dug hole during crunch time on an opponent’s court. Huge, must-have rebounds from Quentin Grimes and Dedric Lawson set the stage for clutch scores from both Lawson brothers, Dedric and K.J., to force overtime.
And even though KU got out in front by 5 midway through OT, the outcome wasn’t sealed until the breakout star of the night, Dotson, willed his team to a victory.
Attacking off a ball screen set by David McCormack (bigs Dedric Lawson and Mitch Lightfoot both already had fouled out), Dotson attacked the paint with Kansas up 1 in the final minute of the extra period. While drawing a foul en route to the hoop, Dotson landed on his backside, where he grimaced in pain, letting out a brief scream.
“I was kind of scared,” Ochai Agbaji shared of his initial reaction to seeing Dotson down on the floor with the game in the balance. “But I knew he has cramped, like, earlier in the season, before, but he’s played through it. He’s tough.”
Indeed, the pain Dotson felt from the fall was accompanied by some cramping, what with Dotson being the only player on either roster to take part in all 45 minutes of the conference battle.
The freshman point guard said Self told him in that moment, “You got it. Knock ’em down.”
And the point guard did just that, burying both free throws for a 3-point lead.
“I just wanted to get the win,” Dotson said. “Just lock in and take it one at a time, just knock it down.”
His desire to make that happen showed up two more times in OT, as Dotson finished 6 for 6 at the foul line in the final 40 seconds.
“That's a big momentum swing,” Dotson said of the pressure free throws that he considered a necessity while not allowing the moment to overwhelm him. “If they foul us and we miss those, that’s basically just giving them the ball.”
The resolve shown by Dotson and his teammates allowed Kansas (19-6 overall, 8-4 Big 12) to snap its four-game road losing skid and stay in the thick of the hunt for the Big 12 title.
So just how positive was Self feeling about the players’ toughness?
“I feel good that we came back after we gave it up. But I didn’t feel good that the toughness was so good as we gave it up,” Self pointed out.
Even so, Self admitted KU had a “pretty makeshift lineup” on the floor after Dedric Lawson, Lightfoot and Grimes had fouled out: Dotson, Agbaji, Charlie Moore, McCormack and K.J. Lawson.
“And those guys hung in there,” Self said. “They did some good things.”
No one looked mentally tougher in the critical road victory than redshirt sophomore K.J. Lawson. The man was averaging only 9 minutes a game before circumstances allowed him to be on the floor in crunch time. And he wasn’t remotely scared of the spotlight, scoring the shot that forced OT in the final 30 seconds of the second half and putting Kansas ahead for good with another basket in the extra period.
K.J. said the Jayhawks’ second road win on the season has the potential to make them a mentally tougher team moving forward.
“That’s definitely like a motivational builder for the road,” he said. “When you win one on the road, you believe you can win one. But when you lose, you get a little doubt in your mind, when you’re coming down the stretch and you blew a couple games — any player will tell you that.”
Only six games remain for KU in the regular season, and half of them will be on the road: at Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Now that they’ve fought their way to a conference victory in an opposing arena, the Jayhawks have that experience to fall back on, that reminder that they are tough enough to endure the home team’s counterpunch and come out on the other side successfully.
If the Jayhawks end up clawing their way to another Big 12 championship by the end of the regular season, their overtime win at TCU will stand out as a defining turning point that made it possible, because it was on that Big Monday stage that the players proved to themselves that they have more tenacity about them than it once seemed.
Fort Worth, Texas — Grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 82-77 overtime win over TCU on Big Monday at Schollmaier Arena.
The offense was just effective enough for the Jayhawks to get out of their third trip to Texas this season with their second road victory to date.
KU hit 9 of its 30 3-pointers while connecting on 19 of its 38 2-pointers.
The visitors helped themselves out by keeping pace with TCU inside, where Kansas was only outscored 36-34 in the paint.
As we’ve seen on a number of occasions this year, KU finished with more turnovers (15) than assists (13).
The key, of course, proved to be timely baskets and some crunch time free-throw makes, the latter coming courtesy of freshman point guard Devon Dotson.
KU made 17 of 23 at the foul line in the win.
The biggest defensive accomplishment for KU in this one might have been the way the Jayhawks kept a potential 3-point killer from going off.
While Kouat Noi scored 14 points, the Horned Frogs’ best shooter struggled from 3-point range, making only 1 of 9.
TCU never was able to deliver the type of prolonged outburst it needed to win, and give KU’s defense credit for that.
The Frogs only shot 38% from the field on 71 attempts for the night. KU held TCU to 36.4% shooting in the second half, as well as a 1-for-7 performance in overtime.
The Jayhawks won the battle of the glass, too, outrebounding TCU 49-43 in the crucial road victory.
It wasn’t one of Dedric Lawson’s more impressive games, and he still finished with a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds).
But it took him a while to get going and he shot 6 for 16 from the field before fouling out with 2:26 left in OT.
Freshman David McCormack started again. And he once again played hard. But his energy only translated to 4 points and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes — and he only played several of those minutes due to foul trouble for Lawson and Mitch Lightfoot.
Freshmen Dotson (career-highs of 25 points and 10 rebounds to go with 5 assists) and Ochai Agbaji (20 points, 10 rebounds) were the stars of the night for Kansas.
Agbaji’s activity in everything he did gave KU energy and confidence, while Dotson’s ability to handle 45 minutes and only show fleeting signs of weakness keyed a win that feels like it could help the team turn a corner.
Quentin Grimes chipped in with 4 assists, but only scored 5 points on 2-for-11 shooting as KU played without injured Marcus Garrett again.
KU couldn’t have won without K.J. Lawson, who scored the basket that sent it to overtime, as well as the one that gave the Jayhawks the lead for good in the extra period. And he looked poised and confident in doing so.
Lawson’s 10 points and 3 rebounds in 16 minutes made him a standout performer, even though he rarely gets much of an opportunity to play.
Lightfoot again started the second half, and his interior defense helped KU build a double-digit lead in the second half. The junior added 4 points and 6 boards before fouling out in 22 minutes.
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 84-72 win over Oklahoma State on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
A slow start from 3-point range kept KU from building anything larger than a 6-point lead in the first half. Then the Jayhawks needed some late-half 3-pointers from Ochai Agbaji to head into the locker room tied with the Cowboys.
KU wasn’t finding a lot of easy baskets in the paint in the first 20 minutes, when they scored just 12 inside, leading to the tight game against the Big 12’s ninth-place team.
But the Jayhawks opened up the second half by establishing Dedric Lawson as a focal point and high-percentage looks and some needed energy followed for the Jayhawks.
KU shot 51.5 percent from the floor in the final 20 minutes.
Some defensive breakdowns late in the first half allowed OSU to score easily and head to halftime with some confidence.
While Kansas didn’t allow OSU to take a ton of 3-pointers, the defense often left the Cowboys’ most capable shooters open for great looks when they did take them. The Cowboys shot 9 for 20 from long range and the makes always seemed timely.
Ultimately OSU wasn’t able to hoist enough 3-point bombs to keep pace with the home team, and the Cowboys shot 38 percent from the floor in the second half.
Although David McCormack made the first start of his career, it was, of course, Dedric Lawson who did most of the damage inside for Kansas.
Lawson began to take over in the second half, exactly when KU needed him to. His smooth finishing and shooting touch were on full display, but so was his passing, decision-making and feel for the game, as the Jayhawks’ most talented player put up 25 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists.
McCormack had trouble making much of an impact early, though his energy and effort and want-to was plenty evident.
The freshman’s 10 first-half minutes netted 1 rebound and 0 points. By the end of the game, McCormack had played just 4 more minutes and had 0 points and 5 boards to show for his starting debut.
Playing without two potential starters in Marcus Garrett (injured ankle) and Lagerald Vick (leave of absence), Kansas went with a three-guard lineup versus the Cowboys.
Devon Dotson’s innate ability to find steals and take off the other way for a bucket reached new heights in the first half, when the freshman delivered the first dunk of his KU career. A few minutes later he had an even more impressive finish on a layup, because he was challenged this time, by OSU big Yor Anei, and finished off glass over the 6-foot-10 freshman.
With Vick out of the mix, Kansas definitely needs someone stepping up in the scoring department and Dotson did his part Saturday, putting up 18 points to go with his 4 assists and 5 rebounds.
Fellow freshman Ochai Agbaji, one of four freshmen in the starting lineup, was even better in that department, providing the offense with a real boost, as well. Agbaji (23 points, 5-for-7 on 3-pointers, 6 rebounds) drained 3 of 4 from 3-point range in the first half, as KU entered the locker room tied with the Cowboys at 36.
Freshman Quentin Grimes (6 points, 4 rebounds) had a difficult start to his day, twice called for a charge while trying to be aggressive off the dribble. He didn’t score until the 12:20 mark of the second half, but his contributions proved timely, as a pair of 3-pointers in a little more than a minute, out of a timeout, pushed KU’s lead to 8.
Mitch Lightfoot and Charlie Moore were the first players off KU’s bench, and got in much earlier than they would have a couple of weeks back, when they were at the end of the rotation.
Lightfoot (6 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks) pleased the crowd in the first half by going all out for a tough defensive rebound at one point and later on challenging Cameron McGriff for a would-be highlight dunk that ended a foul.
Lightfoot, who started the second half in place of McCormack, got the half off to an electric start on defense by smothering a would-be Anei dunk attempt up in the air.
Moore came out firing off the bench, but was 1 for 5 in the first half and missed all 3 of his 3-point tries. The redshirt sophomore finished with 4 points.
Perhaps because he’s spent so much of this season in college basketball’s version of crisis management mode, Bill Self on Friday afternoon turned one question about the at times tedious nature of a season into a nearly 3-minute long public service announcement about the state of the Kansas basketball team.
Whether it was the Jayhawks’ four losses in their last six games (with all the defeats coming on the road), dealing with another injury to a starter, having a senior guard take a leave of absence in February, or, you know, the whole Silvio De Sousa fiasco that had him revved up, Self’s state of mind during an otherwise typical media session fueled a monologue.
In his career, Self was asked outside the locker room in Allen Fieldhouse, when he has sensed that basketball has become tedious to his players, how does he help them recapture “the joy?”
“It happens with every team. And I think that’s kind of an unfair question, because you’re stating it right after losses, and that’s when everything is magnified,” Self began in his response. “Positively it can be magnified if you win and negatively it can be magnified if you don’t. And 50 percent of the teams that play each and every night lose. So the whole thing is you can’t let things become situations because of disappointment in a short-term deal. Is it hard to get players to understand that and do that? Absolutely. We haven’t experienced that a lot here. But it is a situation where all teams go through something — they all go through something.”
The trials and tribulations seem to keep piling up on the perennial Big 12 champions this season, Self’s 16th at KU.
From the significant fallout to De Sousa’s recruitment, to Udoka Azubuike’s season-ending wrist injury, to Marcus Garrett’s less serious ankle injury that is expected to keep him out yet again as the Jayhawks play host to Oklahoma State, to Lagerald Vick’s out of the blue leave of absence, there have been no shortage of pitfalls in the chase for the program’s 15th consecutive conference title.
By the way, don’t even bring that up. Not right now anyway.
“It’s not right to talk about the league race, because right now we’re not even in the league race — at least the way I see it,” Self said. “Until we start, you know, doing some things to create some positive energy and wins moving forward, because there’s so little margin for error.”
No. 13 KU (17-6 overall, 6-4 Big 12) enters the weekend sitting 1.5 games behind the Big 12’s current leader, Kansas State, 1 game behind second-place Iowa State, a half-game behind third-place Baylor and tied for fourth with Texas Tech in the five-team jumble atop the standings.
A win against Oklahoma State (9-13, 2-7) is a must for the Jayhawks, but it won’t do anything to improve the national perception of this team. Kansas has dropped in the AP Top 25 each of the past four weeks, and next week will be no different, regardless of Saturday’s outcome.
The constant unrest that has characterized this season, Self wanted to remind everyone, has pushed KU out of college basketball’s upper echelon.
“The thing about it is that I don’t think people understand on the outside: we’re not the same team we were when we were preseason No. 1 in the country,” Self said. “I mean, we’re not. We’ve got four of our top seven players (Azubuike, Garrett, Vick, De Sousa), most talented players, who are not going to be in uniform tomorrow. So naturally we’re not the same team. So do we temper expectations? I’m not sure I buy into that. But we’ve also got to be a little bit realistic knowing that when you have less margin for error there’s a greater chance that something negative can happen, such as not winning the game.”
In KU’s current reality, which at least will get a boost when Garrett is able to return, perhaps in a week, a Big 12 title isn’t a foregone conclusion for a change. You can talk yourself into this being the year the streak ends as easily as you can that it will continue.
The challenge for Self, who said they can’t make excuses, will be getting the players to tighten up every aspect of what they do, what with those aforementioned slim margins.
And when KU inevitably endures another loss?
“You can’t approach the next day like it’s the end of the earth,” Self said, “because there’s a pretty good chance that could’ve happened anyway.”
It’s not as if, Self pointed out, KU has the personnel of the Boston Celtics. If he was coaching that type of talent, he would be more concerned about the team’s 1-5 road record.
“But we don’t have that right now,” he said. “And certainly you can’t hold the players accountable to a level that when the other team tries just as hard and they have all their pieces and they’re already just as good, something bad could potentially happen.”
Those negative outcomes have become a road-game trend for this team during what has been a tumultuous first few months to the season by KU basketball standards. The Jayhawks shouldn’t have much trouble getting another home win on Saturday. But until they start proving they can play with the type of consistency that has lacked throughout the season’s first 23 games, the ceiling for this team will keep looking lower and lower.
“In order to win games that are against good teams you have to play on that particular night, at that particular moment, on that particular possession,” Self said. “And we just haven’t been doing that enough.”
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 74-67 loss on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum.
The Jayhawks’ 23 turnovers destroyed their chances of winning on their rival’s home court.
Dedric Lawson, Quentin Grimes, Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji combined to commit 17 between them.
K-State’s defense repeatedly kept KU off balance, leading to KU’s fourth loss in a row on the road.
K-State, not known for its offense or 3-point accuracy, drained 10 of 24 from deep.
KU played competent defense for stretches in the half court, but a lack of consistency on that end against one of the Big 12’s worst offensive teams caught up with the visitors.
While KU would be lost without Lawson, the Wildcats harassed him and kept long defenders on him, making for a long night for the leading scorer.
Lawson shot 6 for 15 from the floor and only made 1 of 5 from 3-point range.
Boy, did the Jayhawks’ guards look uncomfortable versus the defensive-minded Wildcats.
Quality shots were rare at best, impossible to find at other junctures. The same issues that have plagued KU on the road haven’t gone anywhere.
Charlie Moore was a surprising bright spot, providing KU with 8 points and a pair of assists.
Mitch Lightfoot looked like someone who had experienced the Sunflower Showdown before, and his characteristic go-hard approach led to 6 points and 5 boards.
KU’s bench was outscored by K-State’s subs, 20-17.
Recent history says this Kansas basketball team won’t fare too well Tuesday night at Bramlage Coliseum, likely the most hostile venue into which the Jayhawks will venture all season.
Though coming off arguably their most impressive victory since losing center Udoka Azubuike for the season, the No. 13 Jayhawks are just 1-5 on the road, with three consecutive defeats in opposing venues.
Kansas has lost at Arizona State, Iowa State, West Virginia, Kentucky and Texas. And none of those fan bases object to the mere sight of crimson and blue quite like the Kansas State zealots who will loudly and wildly back their Wildcats, currently tied for first with Baylor in the Big 12 standings, and vehemently boo the trailing-in-the-standings Jayhawks throughout this intriguing edition of the Sunflower Showdown.
KU (17-5 overall, 6-3 Big 12) looked so good in tossing aside Texas Tech on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse some minds may gloss over the fact that the Jayhawks have looked so bad in so many of their road games.
A repeat performance of their out-of-body 3-point shooting episode (season-highs of 13 makes and 30 attempts) against the Red Raiders can’t be counted on as the solution for winning at K-State (16-5, 6-2) and exorcising KU’s road demons.
So what did Bill Self and his coaching staff see in a Saturday home win that that’s more trustworthy and could translate to success away from KU’s killer home court?
“I thought the ball moved better,” Self said of a positive development from the weekend. “I thought we played downhill more than we have. I think we did some things maybe a little bit differently that didn’t encourage as much side-to-side dribbling as what we were getting before, where as last year’s team that was effective, but this year’s team it wasn’t near as good.”
With 19 assists on 27 field goals, KU’s offense flowed for a change against a Tech team renowned for its defense. And while 12 of those assists came on 3-point makes, the fluidity that came with relocating junior big Dedric Lawson away from the paint turned out to be a welcome move for the entire team.
“I think we did some things. But the reality of it is you’re not always going to make 13 3s,” Self admitted. “So you’ve got to be able to get the ball to the rim in some form or fashion a lot of times to try to score. That was something we didn’t do great against Tech — but we really didn’t try to do it against Tech.”
Kansas scored 26 points in the paint versus the Red Raiders, which registered as the team’s third-lowest total in that category in the nine games the Jayhawks have played since Azubuike suffered his season-ending wrist injury.
“I think against K-State we’ve got to be able to score in and out,” Self said.
Lawson (19.5 points per game this season), of course, can do just that. But he’ll need some help.
A couple days ahead of the Jayhawks’ home-game revival against Tech, Lawson said Self delivered a post-practice speech in which he implored his players to approach the game with energy and free minds.
“He got on guys like Lagerald (Vick) and Quentin (Grimes). He challenged those guys to be better,” Lawson shared.
The volume of that message had to be cranked up even louder once sophomore starting guard Marcus Garrett injured an ankle, making him unplayable both against Tech and K-State.
With a shortened rotation, KU needs even more out of every player who steps onto the floor. Lawson said Self included the team’s leading scorer in that demand.
“Guys got to step up,” Lawson added. “It’s about that time of the season. Everybody’s got to give five more percent, just to make us a better team. That’s what guys did (in the win over Tech).”
And it will take those same types of efforts, coming across the board, for the Jayhawks to defeat a veteran K-State team that ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense (58.7 points allowed per game) and fifth in the country in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com.
Tough shots may be the only ones KU can find against the Wildcats. With their newfound spacing, they’ll need to take as many of those attempts in the paint as possible to get out of Manhattan with a win.
They have a speedy driver in Devon Dotson who can help make that happen, and they’ve shown — at least in their most recent home win — that they’re capable of moving the ball to beat a defensive-minded opponent.
If they set their minds on getting to the paint — Self noted Grimes did so nine times off the bounce against Tech — KU’s perimeter players, Lawson included, should find life on the road a little easier to navigate.
Knocking down a reasonable number of 3-pointers off those paint touches sure would help, too.
Something out of the ordinary happened to the best player on the Kansas basketball team. And it was so surprising that it didn’t even register for junior Dedric Lawson until after the fact.
“I really didn’t get double-teamed today, did I?” Lawson interjected during one point of his postgame interview on Saturday.
After seeing what felt like nothing but the long arms and large frames of multiple defenders when the ball reached his hands of late, Lawson got to operate much more freely in the Jayhawks’ 79-63 home victory over Texas Tech, thanks to a tweak that benefited not only the redshirt junior forward but also the rest of his teammates.
After scoring in the low 60s in three of the previous four games, and losing on the road each time the point total landed in that range, something had to change for KU’s offense.
So Bill Self and his coaching staff decided to stop using the one big man in the Jayhawks’ four-guard lineup like a traditional low-post player. Lawson, after all, isn’t as comfortable backing a defender down as he is facing one up. You wouldn’t ask Udoka Azubuike to play on the perimeter. So why keep Lawson down on the blocks?
The 6-foot-9 forward from Memphis was able to play at ease most of the game versus the Red Raiders, in part because the visitors couldn’t constantly send double-teams at him inside.
When the Jayhawks headed to the locker room at halftime up 20 points, it occurred to the versatile Lawson that he hadn’t posted up once.
“That’s something that was a little different to the offense that coach changed,” Lawson said of a strategy that also kept him popping out more off of certain actions instead of rolling to the paint.
Lawson thought the new look helped the four guards around him, too. Without Lawson and the man trying to defend him always down near the basket, the floor opened up significantly.
“We can start making those shots and maybe they’ll get easy layups and things like that,” Lawson said. “The offense will flow more smoothly.”
It definitely did versus Tech. With space for KU’s guards to drive and create, not only did the Jayhawks (17-5 overall, 6-3 Big 12) knock down a season-high 13 shots from beyond the 3-point arc, they also scored 26 points in the paint.
On his way to 25 points and 10 rebounds, his 15th double-double of the season, Lawson scored 12 of his points around the rim and picked up another nine by knocking in all three of his 3-point attempts — each one coming from the top of the key in the first half. It was the fourth time in the past eight games that Lawson made at least two from deep.
Self acknowledged after the win it was important for KU to give Lawson room to breathe and operate. The talented big man saw so many double-teams, especially during the Jayhawks’ losses at Kentucky and Texas, as Lawson shot a combined 11-for-33, that the offense couldn’t afford to keep making it so easy for defenses to put Lawson at a disadvantage.
“He shot it so much better from 3 of late, even going back to the Kentucky game,” Self said. “So I think getting him in space where he doesn’t feel like he’s getting leaned on and laid on the whole time is going to be important for us moving forward.”
KU began practicing with its modified offense on Thursday, and Lawson said it didn’t take long for it to look and feel good.
“The ball’s moving,” Lawson said of perhaps the most important improvement, along with the paint not getting clogged up. “Giving guys more of an opportunity to be aggressive.”
Those assertive plays from guards often made things easier for Lawson, too. Lagerald Vick, Ochai Agbaji and Quentin Grimes each assisted on a Lawson layup in the win, and Grimes fed the big man for a bucket on two occasions.
Freshman point guard Devon Dotson made the most of KU’s spacing and flow, too, scoring a career-high 20 points and dishing four assists.
As the Jayhawks head into the final half of the Big 12 schedule, they have a different offensive approach that could end up keying a run toward yet another conference title.
“This is a totally different team than last year playing four out,” Self said while discussing his latest offensive adaptation. “Our chance to score inside is totally different this year than last year. Last year we had more guys that could play behind a bad closeout and things like that, to force some things.”
The Jayhawks don’t have those types of guards anymore. But they may have finally found a way to play effective offense without knockdown shooters and a veteran-filled backcourt.
“Put it in Dedric and Devon’s hands as much as possible,” Self said, “and try to get Lagerald a shot in early clock is probably our best way to play. And hopefully that’ll be good for us moving forward, as well.”
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 79-63 win over Texas Tech on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
KU led by as many as 14 points in the first half, as the Jayhawks came out as locked in and driven as they’ve been all season.
They looked out of character offensively, too, the way they were draining 3-pointers. KU nailed 9 of 15 from deep in the first half, fueling a 46-26 lead at intermission for the perennial Big 12 champs.
The Jayhawks didn’t dominate the second half the way they did in the first. But their willingness to move the ball and set each other up with good looks (19 assists) made for a relatively easy victory against one of the league’s better teams.
The Red Raiders may not be known for their offense, but give KU’s defense credit for keeping the visitors well out of reach during a dominating first half.
The Jayhawks held one of the league’s elite talents, sophomore guard Jarrett Culver (10 points) to 4-for-11 shooting in the first half. And with their most talented player struggling — he was even called for a charge on an absurd dunk — the Red Raiders only made 30.3 percent of their first-half shots, finishing with only 26 points.
Tech’s offense never took off in the second half, either, and the Red Raiders never recovered from their difficult start to the afternoon.
The most skilled offensive player on KU’s roster, Dedric Lawson looked far more comfortable than he did during KU’s back-to-back road losses leading up to the matchup with Texas Tech.
Lawson had 16 points and 7 rebounds by halftime, and nailed all three of his 3-point tries in the first half.
The junior from Memphis spent much of the first half facing the hoop instead of with his back to the basket inside, and Tech’s defenders didn’t have much luck stopping him.
Some foul trouble early in the second half kept Lawson (25 points, 10 rebounds) from making his typical impact in the game’s final 20 minutes.
Back in the starting lineup after a demotion at Texas, senior guard Lagerald Vick’s first-half outburst had as much to do with KU’s early separation and eventual victory as anything.
Vick (13 points, 3 for 4 on 3-pointers) buried all three of his 3-point attempts in the opening 11 minutes and he would have had a fourth had he not stepped on the arc on another try.
When Vick’s rolling, it really seems to fire up his teammates. And KU’s offense took off with Vick setting the pace.
Making the second start of his young career, Ochai Agbaji kept standing out with his competitive approach to everything he does on the court.
Agbaji’s efforts on defense are just as crucial to KU’s success as his scoring (10 points) and rebounding (10 boards).
Devon Dotson (20 points, 4 assists) proved once again he has the speed and tenacity to attack the paint and, even better, do so with the intention of kicking the ball out to teammates to create some offensive flow.
Even when his passes weren’t assists, the dishes were able to keep the ball moving and the defense working, as he drew Red Raiders toward the paint and then fired them to scramble back out. Plus, he gave KU much-needed scoring balance.
Freshman Quentin Grimes had more than 2 assists for the first time in Big 12 play, finishing with 4, and went 2 for 7 on 3-pointers to score 6 points.
With Marcus Garrett out due to an ankle injury suffered during Friday’s practice, the Jayhawks’ rotation was even shorter than usual. So KU really needed whoever played to come in and not o any damage to the team’s chances against a strong Tech team.
Charlie Moore (2 points) benefited most from the open spot in the rotation, and he both assisted on a 3-pointer for fellow sub K.J. Lawson (3 points) and drove in for a layup during KU’s strong start to the first half.
Lineups featuring KU subs weren’t quite as impactful in the second half, especially when Tech did its best to make some runs and cut into the Jayhawks’ lead.