Thursday, March 14, 2019

Mighty McCormack: Freshman center helps Kansas power past Texas in Big 12 quarterfinals

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) puts down a dunk against Texas during the first half, Thursday, March 14, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) puts down a dunk against Texas during the first half, Thursday, March 14, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.


Kansas City, Mo. — Bigger was better for the 17th-ranked Kansas men’s basketball team in the quarterfinal round of the 2019 Big 12 tournament.

In addition to playing with a bigger seed than they had in a decade, the third-seeded Jayhawks got a major lift from freshman big man David McCormack to power past 6th-seeded Texas, 65-57, Thursday night at Sprint Center.

In the week leading up to the matchup, Kansas coach Bill Self said he hoped that KU’s recent move back to two big men, instead of four guards, would help frustrate, contain and confuse Texas’ big and athletic front line.

That hope came true in a big way, and the pro-KU crowd needed to watch just one possession to see it come to life.

On KU’s first possession of the game, Ochai Agbaji made sure to give McCormack a touch in the post against UT big man Jaxson Hayes.

Catch. Turn left. Drop step and finish through contact. 2-0 Kansas.

“You’ve got to throw him in that water," KU junior Dedric Lawson said after Thursday's victory. "I told him in the locker room, I’m throwing the ball to you on the first play, make a move and, hit or miss, have confidence in what you do.”

Added Kansas coach Bill Self: "If you've followed us at all for the last 20 years, we love throwing the ball inside early in the game. That's how we've always played. He's the beneficiary of that usually. But we did want to give their bigs something to guard."

On its next offensive possession — after a Dotson steal and layup — KU went back to the big man and McCormack again finished over Hayes, through contact, this time drawing a foul from the officials and smiles and praise from his teammates.

“Let’s go,” a fiercely determined McCormack yelled after the ball fell through the hoop.

Rather than joining in the 6-foot-10 freshman forward’s laser-sharp stare of concentration and intimidation, McCormack’s teammates instead chose to laugh and smile while high-fiving and slapping his chest as he walked to the free-throw line.

“He has fun, that’s just his whole demeanor," Lawson joked. "He hates to smile. I don’t even think he smiles in pictures. He wants to have that mean guy look, I guess.”

Added KU freshman Quentin Grimes, who offered his share of help with 12 points (7-of-8 from the free throw line), 4 rebounds and 3 assists: "He’s been a monster the past couple games and in practice. I just have the utmost confidence that if he gets the ball in the post he’s going to score every time."

As for Grimes' take on the McCormack celebration after the early and-one?

"I think that’s his version of him being locked in, getting and-ones, getting pumped up," Grimes said. "When he’s pumped up it gets us pumped up.” “

That spurt, which also featured a missed 16-foot jumper from the KU big man — had it fallen, the shades-of-Silvio-De-Sousa talk no doubt would have run rampant — helped stake Kansas to an 11-4 lead in the game’s first 5 minutes.

But Texas didn’t blink, responding to that deficit with a 7-0 run to pull even by the 13:34 mark of the first half.

Twelve of KU’s first 15 points came in the paint, where Texas had held the advantage in the first two meetings between the Jayhawks and Longhorns.

For the game, Kansas finished with 34 points in the lane, compared to 20 by the Longhorns.

McCormack’s presence in the paint became even more important at the 8:07 mark of the first half, when junior forward Dedric Lawson (16 points, 6 rebounds on 6-of-15 shooting in 34 minutes) was whistled for his second foul.

After a few minutes on the bench and a few missed shots from his teammates, McCormack got back into the act with a tough post move at the 7-minute mark that gave Kansas a 17-16 lead after the Longhorns had climbed on top with two free throws from Kerwin Roach Jr., on the previous possession.

McCormack followed that up with a hustle play that took him into the Texas bench for a save and left him gassed. His 13 first-half minutes were not a career high, but the effort he expended was. While several Jayhawks appeared to play with added effort and intensity throughout Thursday’s first half — the kind needed to survive and advance in the postseason — none of them matched what McCormack gave.

McCormack actually outperformed Lawson in the game’s first 20 minutes, tying his all-Big 12 teammate in points, with 9, outrebounding him 4-1, and committing two fewer fouls and two fewer turnovers in two less minutes.

His two missed free throws with 2.7 seconds to play in the first half sent the teams to the locker room deadlocked at 29.

McCormack wasn’t the only KU big man who played big for KU on Thursday night, but junior forward Mitch Lightfoot did it in a much different way.

Sure Lightfoot grabbed three rebounds, blocked three shots and helped keep McCormack and Lawson fresh. But he also flashed the ability to slide his feet and stay in front of two different Texas guards, which helped force two UT shot-clock violations in the first half.

“They were great," Lawson said of his front court mates. "Mitch played great and Dave played great and that’s something we need going forward.”

While McCormack’s first-half totals of 9 points and 4 rebounds would have been solid totals for the game, the Norfolk, Va., native who made his ninth consecutive start for the Jayhawks, wasn’t done there.

His presence early in the second half helped the Jayhawks (24-8) build a big enough lead to push past Texas. He finished with 13 points and 9 rebounds on 6-of-7 shooting in 29 minutes.

After a back-and-forth 20 minutes of game action spanning both halves, McCormack’s cleanup of a Devon Dotson miss put Kansas up four, at 39-35. Seconds later, after another Texas turnover — UT logged 8 for the game — Dotson (17 points on 6-of-11 shooting) buried a 3-pointer from the corner in front of the KU bench that put the Jayhawks up seven (42-35) and forced Texas to call timeout with 15:58 to play.

Moments later, after ripping down back-to-back offensive and defensive rebounds, McCormack put Kansas up by nine on an offensive putback and roared his way back down to the other end of the floor.

“The more time you play, the better experience you get," McCormack said in the locker room after the win. "And my confidence just keeps going up and I’m just enjoying it.”

Seven minutes later, Kansas built a lead of as many as 11 (54-43) and the Jayhawks never led by fewer than four the rest of the way.

“It was great, just knowing it was a one-and-done type of atmosphere, you’ve got to play hard, make sure you stick to the game plan and I felt like we did that tonight," Grimes said. "We made some free throws, everybody made big plays down the stretch and that’s what carried us.”

In addition to taking the season series from the Longhorns, 2-1, the Jayhawks now lead UT 33-9 in the all-time series between the two programs, with five of those victories coming in the Big 12 tournament.

KU is now 45-11 all-time in the Big 12 tournament, 40-9 all-time at Sprint Center and 226-83 all-time in games played in Kansas City.

The Jayhawks will look for their 227th win at approximately 8 p.m. tonight, when they face 10th-seeded West Virginia in the semifinals.

The Longhorns (16-16), meanwhile, will await their fate on Selection Sunday, when they’ll hope to be the rare team to make the NCAA Tournament field with a .500 record.

Top-seeded Kansas State and No. 5 seed Iowa State will square off in today’s other Big 12 semifinal.

Asked for the key to success in Friday's semifinal, Lawson said it was simple.

“Just staying focused and just knowing that what we did tonight isn’t going to (carry) over to tomorrow," he said.


Tony Bandle 3 years, 8 months ago

Random Thoughts:

1] West Virginia will be playing their third game in three days, they had to expend a tremendous effort to upset Texas Tech, they have not fared that well in the Lawrence/Kansas City area......that's exactly why the Hawks CAN NOT relax for a second!!!!!

2] Pound the ball in and break their press and it's on to the Finals.

3] Add Matt Hurt to the Frosh Four and we are going to be REALLY GOOD next season!!

4] Every time I see a highlight of Duke's "Lie On" Williamson, I go red in the face and picture Silvio sitting on the bench.

5] Big Mac is turning out to be the future for KU. Just keep working on your foot movement and soften that shot a tad!

6] Four guys in double figures...that's excellent.

7] It would be great that the last three games of the pre-NCAA Tourney season would see KU beat three schools that beat us

8] Keep on playing on those neutral courts, Hawks!!!

Len Shaffer 3 years, 8 months ago

Nice, solid win. They always say that winning ugly is the sign of a good team and KU hasn't done much of that this year. So I'd say this was an encouraging sign.

Jesse Trombla 3 years, 8 months ago

I've always enjoyed your random thoughts, Tony. Its a nice addition to the site. RCJH

Steve Zimmerman 3 years, 8 months ago

So far, so good. McCormack has been progressing in an upward trend (not Grimes!). His footwork is amazing. He's been really helping out on the defense, too. The bigs carried the team tonight. They set the tone early. I'm really proud of this youngsters..!!

Jay Scott 3 years, 8 months ago

Steve. Saying Grimes isn't progressing is just stupid. There's a reason that he plays 30+ mins. Why do you hate him so much?

Jesse Johnson 3 years, 8 months ago

Jay, look at his game log: Do you see him trending updward? He missed five wide open 3 pointers last night. At some point you have to expect your players to hit their open shots.

Steve Zimmerman 3 years, 8 months ago

Jay, can you explain to me what 'progressing' mean? Look at his floaters, his layups, his 3-pt shooting. Look at how he fires the 3s. Look again. The ball often hit the rim attachment. Do you know why? Let's hear it from a very smart man. I don't hate him so much, FYI. I don't argue how good of a passer he is. But he needs to be more than just a passer, right?

Jay Scott 3 years, 8 months ago

Don't' worry Steve and Jesse. There are other fans who are also too uninformed to realize that shooting percentages and scoring totals are not the only things that count.

David Howell 3 years, 8 months ago

Steve, I've been off the Grimes train all year myself. He has really only had about 3 decent games this years. I thought he was going to be a stud from all the hype early on .......... All I can guess is that HCBS is playing for next year, sees that they have no one of note on the bench, and can only hope 30 minutes a game makes him better.

Steve Zimmerman 3 years, 8 months ago

Let's all hope for the better Grimes next year. He shows a glimpse of hope tonight! Jay must've had a feel about him already.. Right on.. !!

Bryce Landon 3 years, 8 months ago

In recent seasons, it seems Kansas often has that one late bloomer who comes out of his shell and figures things out. In 2013 it was Perry Ellis. Last season it was Silvio De Sousa. Last night it was David McCormack. He was huge for us; we don't win that game without him. His effort was a joy to watch last night, to say the least.

And as I watched that game, I couldn't help but think back to when a KU-UT matchup in the Big 12 Tournament would have come about in the tournament title game rather than in the quarterfinals. My, how times have changed.

I also thought of how the Lone Star State had its worst day ever in the Big 12 Tournament, with all four of its teams losing in the quarterfinals. Add to that the two teams from Oklahoma losing in the play-in games, and from here on out, it's former Big 12 North teams and WVU!

Speaking of WVU, tonight we need to be zoned in. We cannot forget the embarrassment of losing in Morgantown to this last-place West Virginia team (although the fact that they just humiliated conference co-champ Texas Tech takes some of the sting out of that god-awful loss). We need to punch them in the mouth early and often and put to rest any delusions they might have of getting back to the Big 12 finals or even making the NCAA Tournament with a piss-poor record like what they have.

And as for that other semifinal between Iowa State and Kansas State...since I hate both teams, who the hell do I root for? It's a shame someone will have to win that game.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 8 months ago

Good post, Tony. Is this where McCormack surpasses Dok's ability? Dok has no guarantee that he would start next year though I don't see him not starting if he does.

Losing out on Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Self needs at least another big for next year.

Jay Scott 3 years, 8 months ago

...on the other hand, it's very possible that everyone returns....... Dok, Mac, Dedric, Mitch, KJ, Dotson, Grimes, Baj, Garrett, Moore plus Braun, McBride and maybe Hurt... Silvio is hardest to predict...

Kurt Eskilson 3 years, 8 months ago

Self has already indicated that Dok is not likely to return.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 8 months ago

I don't see anything else that Dok needs to show the NBA except making it through an entire season. He will still be a work in progress.

I think it possible that McCormack would surpass Dok next year.

Kurt Eskilson 3 years, 8 months ago

Here's the quote regarding Dok, from March 8: “I think what you’d be hoping for is maintaining,” Self said. “But he’ll be a better player next year than he would’ve been this year, not because of that (but) just because he’d be a year older and he’s still real young. But I doubt we’re going to get a chance to witness that though.”

Steven Haag 3 years, 8 months ago

While I am having fun watching these young Freshman grow and mature, we need to understand that Texas is now 16-16 for their record. Yes, they beat North Carolina and are athletic, but the top tier teams would have beat them by 20+ points. I’m not being a “Debbie downer” and am very encouraged for the future, but I don’t expect us to go very far in the tournament. But then again, it is “March MADNESS” and anything can happen. In the meantime, it was a win, survive and advance.

Jesse Johnson 3 years, 8 months ago

Can't help but agree exactly with all your points.

Mike Greer 3 years, 8 months ago

Yet North Carolina is a top tier team, likely a number one seed. Also, Texas has been playing without one of its best players that was back last night. It's not like they're the little sisters of the poor. Besides look at what a downtrodden WVU team did to what the talking heads claim is the best team in the Big XII. As you say, it is March Madness.

Yes, I agree, it's not going to be easy going deep in the tournament, but it never is. This very young and inexperienced playing with each other team has had to make an awful lot of roster adjustments this season. This was what, the 8th game with this starting lineup, not bad, they beat a team that new their season was on the line. They need to beat another one of those tonight.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 8 months ago

"I’m not being a “Debbie downer” "

Actually, yes, yes you are.

Dane Pratt 3 years, 8 months ago

According to Lunardi the loss knocked UT out of the tournament. Will Beard be the next head coach at Texas?

Barry Weiss 3 years, 8 months ago

Great win. Big Mac is growing each game! He's going to be the stud we all dreamed of. Grimes is coming around. Agbbaji is just going through the normal freshman funk. He's going to be NBA someday.

Dane Pratt 3 years, 8 months ago

IDK. He's got to be on their radar but I think they would prefer Hoiberg.

Armen Kurdian 3 years, 8 months ago

UT missed a bunch of open jumpers late, we still need to do a better job of guarding. I don't know that Grimes' 3-pt shooting is going to improve this late in the season, I'd like to see him focus more on ball movement and maybe more out-in play to #33...I think he could be more helpful by racking up the assists than trying the threes.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 8 months ago

Hind sight is a B. Thanks for the laugh.

Brad Watson 3 years, 8 months ago

I love the kid...great energy...great desire...great attitude....hard work always pays off...keep at it!

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