Unranked Siena simply shredded Kansas University’s always-proud defense on Tuesday night in Allen Fieldhouse.
“They brought it to us today. On defense, they kind of made us look silly a few times,” KU center Cole Aldrich said after the unranked Saints swished 10 of 21 threes and made 47.8 percent of their shots overall in the Jayhawks’ narrow 91-84 victory.
“I wouldn’t say ‘silly.’ I’d say they made us look really bad,” guard Sherron Collins said after a game in which the Jayhawks led, 30-10, early, before eventually seeing the lead dip to four points (69-65) during crunch time.
Cool customers Aldrich (career-high 24 points) and Collins (18) helped make sure the Jayhawks exited Allen Fieldhouse with their 33-game win streak intact.
And they made sure coach Bill Self pulled out a victory in his 500th career game as a coach.
Yet, their solid efforts — Collins went 4-of-4 from the line as the Jayhawks hit 12 of their final 14 free throws — were not hot topics of discussion three days after KU’s thrilling 92-85 victory over then-No. 14-ranked Tennessee.
The story of this game was defense, or lack of it — especially in the second half, when Siena scored 46 points and hit six of 14 threes to KU’s one of six.
“We were horrible defensively,” Self said. “That was a bad defensive team playing tonight. In the second half, I thought our on-the-ball, ball-screen defense was about as soft as any team I’ve been around.
“We were good on the glass (KU won the rebound battle, 42-29). We took care of the basketball, but it became a H-O-R-S-E contest, and tonight they shot the ball a lot better than we did.”
Siena (10-5), which entered the game with a giant-killer reputation after knocking off Vanderbilt in last year’s NCAA Tournament, led 9-5 early. But the Jayhawks hit nine straight shots in a 25-1 run that opened a 30-10 lead and made a KU blowout appear a probability.
“There were stretches we played as well as we have all year. You go on a 25-1 run against Siena, you’ve got to be playing great,” Self said. “You go on a 25-1 run, you should be able to crack the game open. We didn’t do that because we didn’t guard.”
Aldrich and Tyrel Reed scored 10 points apiece as KU (11-3) maintained a comfy 51-38 lead at halftime.
Siena made its move down 63-48 with 13 minutes left. The Saints rolled, 17-6, to cut the gap to 69-65 at 7:21.
“We had some defensive lapses that you just can’t have, and that allowed them to get back in the game. I think, defensively, we just played really dumb. Myself included. I played very dumb,” said KU sophomore Reed, who finished with a career-high 14 points, including four of four free throws down the stretch. “We’ve just got to improve on that.”
KU did respond immediately after Siena sliced the gap to four.
Tyshawn Taylor made one of two free throws, Collins hit a three, and Aldrich scored off an offensive rebound, giving KU a 75-65 advantage at 5:16.
The Jayhawks led by 10 (83-73) with 1:56 left, but Siena, which appeared to score at will, crept to within five (87-82) at :49. Collins made four straight free throws to put the game on ice finally.
“We were a little high on ourselves after we beat Tennessee,” Collins said. “I don’t think we took Siena lightly. Coach told us over and over they were a good team and a great offensive team. We just did a bad job on defense.”
Self said he’d been more than a bit concerned about the Siena game all season long.
“It’s a good win,” he said. “I would have taken a seven-point win over Siena at 8 this morning. I would have taken a seven-point win over Siena when we scheduled the game. But I will say, when you outscore a team 25-1, you need to put your foot on the throat and bury them, and we didn’t do that.”
That’s another thing the young Jayhawks will have to work on ... as well as defense.
“When you’ve got somebody down, you’ve got to put the foot on their neck,” Collins said. “We let them back in the game. We’ve got to learn from this.”
It won’t get any easier. Next up is Michigan State. Tipoff is noon Central Time, Saturday in East Lansing, Mich.