Relative struggles aside, Jayhawks still winning and capable of more; Will they deliver is the question
As positive as ever and happy to tell anyone who would listen that he was born without the part of the body that allows people to give up, Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton was in no mood to hear about what a rough year it has been for the Jayhawks following last Saturday’s 84-72 Oklahoma State loss at Allen Fieldhouse.
“I know people around here have probably been freaking out because they’ve lost four games in the league,” Boynton said of Kansas and its fans during his postgame opening statement Saturday. “But they still have a Hall of Fame coach, still (have) got a really, really, good, probably first-team All-American-type player, and they still have one of the best home courts in all of America. Hats off to Kansas for finding their way after a tough loss on Tuesday.”
That coach, of course, was Bill Self. That player Boynton spoke of was junior forward Dedric Lawson. And that home-court advantage delivered by Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks are now 13-0 this season, has kept Kansas in the race despite those four Big 12 road losses.
“I’m proud of my kids,” Boynton said. “We competed. We just didn’t have enough to stave off that run that they made in the second half. That’s part of what makes this league as good as it is. That’s part of what makes this place a hard place to play, because those things can come pretty quickly.”
So, too, can a season full of struggles.
Kansas encountered this, of course, through injuries to Udoka Azubuike and Marcus Garrett, the eligibility saga of Silvio De Sousa and, most recently, its lone senior, Lagerald Vick, taking a leave of absence for an undetermined length of time.
Vick missed Saturday. He won’t be in uniform tonight. And there’s no telling when, or whether, he’ll return before the end of the season, though several Jayhawks, including Self, have said they expect to get him back.
Even with all of those unusual occurrences, the Jayhawks’ plights look somewhat minor compared to what Boynton and the Cowboys have endured.
Whether you’re talking about OSU’s rough record, the Cowboys’ depleted and injury-ridden roster or the fact that midseason adversity also hit Oklahoma State hard, when Boynton dismissed three players reportedly because of their connection to a vandalism incident in Stillwater, Okla., Boynton’s club has had it just as bad as — if not worse than — the Jayhawks during the 2018-19 season.
Yet there the Cowboys sit at 9-14 overall and 2-8 in Big 12 play, with records that reflect their struggles, while Kansas, despite all of its issues — of which there are many — is rolling along at 18-6 overall, 7-4 in Big 12 play and still in pursuit of extending its Big 12 title streak to 15.
For a half, the two looked like equals and the scoreboard indicated that, with OSU and KU tied at 36 at the break on Saturday.
But in the second half, the Hall of Famer, the All-American candidate, the handful of former McDonald’s All-Americans and, of course, that home crowd made the difference.
The Jayhawks, even in their current state, have that in them. They’ve shown that in enough games, or at least halves, to move forward believing that, when things are clicking, they can still play and win at the level they’re used to.
Passion and pride seem to be the key to that, and these guys appear to be grasping that more and more each time out.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Self began. “I think we’ve been a bunch of duds in some ways. You can’t put it on the guys who can’t play, but the guys who can’t play can have a role in bringing energy, too. Hopefully we’re getting better at that.”
There’s no time like the present to find out.
Asked after the game what his team needed to do to bring the past two Allen Fieldhouse efforts on the road with them, KU junior Mitch Lightfoot spoke of consistency.
“Carry this feeling over,” Lightfoot said. “It feels good to get a win and to do it in a good team way and we’ve got to learn from this. If we can continue that energy we have, that we’re all feeling right now, I think we’ll play some good basketball.”