Kansas defeats Oklahoma State, 78-66

  • 8 p.m., Feb. 8, 2021
  • Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, KS

Monday, February 8, 2021

Strong second half helps KU earn much-needed 78-66 win over No. 23 Oklahoma State

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) gets up to block a shot from Oklahoma State guard Avery Anderson III (0) during the first half on Monday, Feb. 8, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) gets up to block a shot from Oklahoma State guard Avery Anderson III (0) during the first half on Monday, Feb. 8, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse.


Unranked for the first time in more than a decade, the Kansas men’s basketball team played like it for a half and then used a strong second half to snag a much-needed 78-66 victory over No. 23 Oklahoma State on Tuesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.

The poster child for that turnaround was junior forward David McCormack.

After a 1-for-7 first half that featured more missed bunnies than McCormack would care to remember, the 6-10 center scored 19 points in the second half on 6-of-9 shooting to lead the Jayhawks to a greasy, grind-it-out victory.

“Starting out the second half, I think Coach drew something up for me to get a touch and just kind of get my groove and get in the flow,” McCormack said. “So I think that’s what really started it all off.”

McCormack, who said the Jayhawks called Monday’s game “non-negotiable,” finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds, which included 9-of-12 shooting at the free throw line.

He was one of three Jayhawks to post a double-double in Monday’s victory.

It might’ve been tough to talk anyone into watching McCormack closely in the second half after what he showed in the first half.

But those who were willing to do it saw a player who emphasized finding his feet and gaining his balance before going to the rim in the second half. His intent was easy to spot. And the result was nine quick points on 4-of-4 shooting and a sweet dish to a darting Ochai Agbaji (10 points in 39 minutes), all in the first six minutes of the second half.

That spurt gave Kansas a nine-point lead (41-32) and proved to be the cushion KU needed to get home.

Earlier this season, Self, who has mentioned McCormack’s balance problems on more than one occasion, was asked what went into addressing the it.

“We spent a ton of time on that time,” Self said. “A ton. As soon as the season was over last year, we identified exactly (what) we need to do to try to help with that through our strength and conditioning program, and Ramsey (Nijem has) done a good job with him.”

Self said some of McCormack’s issues stem from the pressure he puts on himself. Self said the junior forward wants to do so well that when things go wrong, it has a tendency to knock him off track a bit.

Self said the path to playing through that includes blocking out the negative things.

“That’s easier said than done, too,” he conceded.

McCormack did a fair amount of that on Monday night, appearing to get stronger and more confident as the game progressed. And it showed in areas beyond his balance.

McCormack was quicker and more purposeful with his post moves after the catch. And he played with much more fire and emotion in the second half.

“I think some of Dave's things that appear to be balanced are maybe balanced, but they're also excitement,” Self said. “I don't think it's all physical. I think some of it is he just gets excited.”

Self’s message to McCormack after the game: “Way to bounce back, way to have the right mentality to fix what I needed to do in the second half,” McCormack said.

It wasn’t all McCormack in the second half. Sophomore guard Christian Braun (15 points, 10 rebounds and 3-of-5 shooting from 3-point range) buried a trio of timely 3-pointers, the third coming as the shot clock went off and the ball caught the iron, bounced high into the air and then softly fell through, delighting the fans in attendance.

That third one was the knockout blow. It gave Kansas its biggest lead of the game to that point (71-58) and left OSU with just two minutes remaining to do anything about it.

Perhaps feeling the weight of their recent rough stretch lifted after that shot fell through, the Jayhawks relentlessly attacked the rim twice on the very next possession after yet another OSU turnover.

First, it was Jalen Wilson (11 points, 11 rebounds) soaring in for a thanks-for-coming-see-ya-later slam. That one was blocked by OSU freshman Cade Cunningham.

Ochai Agbaji grabbed the rebound and, seemingly without even thinking, lunged toward the rim to try to get the dunk his teammate couldn’t. Cunningham was there again waiting to thwart the try. But this time the OSU freshman who finished with 26 points and nine rebounds — but also seven turnovers and chants of “over-rated” from the Fieldhouse crowd —, fouled Agbaji in mid-air.

Agbaji hit both free throws and KU led 73-58 with 1:48 remaining.

Monday’s victory, like so many of KU’s recent games — win or lose — featured another rough start. Unlike the others, however, this one did not spell doom for the Jayhawks.

Kansas (13-7 overall, 7-5 Big 12) missed 13 of its first 16 shots and turned it over four times in the game’s first six minutes.

Three of those misses came from McCormack in the paint, and KU made just one of its first five 3-point attempts.

The offensive woes were only part of the problem. On a pair of early OSU possessions, Kalib Boone — new to the starting lineup since the last time these two played — was left all alone by the rim for two-handed jams, one off of two feet and the other on a lob.

Luckily for the Jayhawks, Oklahoma State (12-6, 5-6) — four turnovers in five minutes (of 18 for the game) — was equally as bad at taking care of the ball in the early going or the Jayhawks, once again, could have been staring at a double-digit deficit to open a game.

Instead, the Jayhawks trailed by just three (10-7) at the 11:45 mark of the first half, fortunate to be in it, but with next to nothing to show for it in the way of rhythm and flow on either end.

Both teams continued to struggle with ball security throughout the first half, which kept both teams from taking control of the game.

Midway through the half, KU senior Marcus Garrett found some success attacking the basket and finished the first half with 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting.

Offense was so hard to come by in this one that even a 5-0 run by the Jayhawks (a deuce by Garrett and a 3-pointer from Agbaji) seemed like a big run.

Late in the half, KU had three cracks to extend its 26-23 in the final 90 seconds of the first half, but on back-to-back possessions McCormack and Tristan Enaruna missed point-blank bunnies and Enaruna coughed up the Jayhawks’ 10th turnover of the half.

That allowed OSU to close the gap to one and KU led 28-25 at halftime.

The win was KU’s third in its last eight games and just the team’s third since Jan. 10.

KU now has the opportunity to build a little momentum, with three consecutive games against Big 12 bottomfeeders Iowa State and Kansas State.

KU will host Iowa State on Thursday night — game time was moved from 7 p.m. to 6 p.m. — and then travel to Ames, Iowa, two days later. The back-to-back games against the same opponent was the result of some COVID-19 rescheduling.

After that, KU will travel to Manhattan next Tuesday for its second game with Kansas State.

KU will then finish the regular season with a stretch of three games against top-13 opponents — No. 7 Texas Tech, No. 13 Texas and No. 2 Baylor.


Benjamin Shear 1 year, 7 months ago

Obiter Dictum:

-DMack is a really good shooter. In fact, he is the 4th best free throw shooter in the league! However, he misses more bunnies that anyone else. Despite this, he really turned it on and showed what kind of player/scorer he can be! It was fun to watch him work tonight!

-What was up with the sign in the stands? "One KU One Day?" Or something like that? I don't get it...

-If you have any doubt how much of a $$$ making business college sports are, consider exhibit 1: During the first half, while play was going on, ESPN spit the screen in half. On one side we saw "student athletes" playing basketball. On the other side of the screen we were treated a Taco Bell commercial. Stay classy ESPN.

-Sooo many turnovers in the first half. Even in the second half, both teams just gave up some completely unforced turnovers.

-HCBS continues in his amazing trend of getting revenge on any team that beats us earlier in the season.

-The team just had more fight and aggression to them tonight, it was great to see. Sure, they didn't shoot all that well, but they drove to the basket, got rebounds, and played defense. It was fun to see the players compete like that.

-Mitch Lightfoot must have got a black eye in practice. He played with a big 'ol shiner tonight.

-Notice how in the second half Garrett didn't bring the ball up the court as the PG? That's a great change. Let him play off the ball. I hope that continues. Also, Garrett (and the team) did a great job on Cade. Sure, he got 26 points, but he's obviously capable of going for more than that.

-Braun shot 3/5 for 3FG (and no air balls). Hopefully he got some confidence back and is out of his slump. Now is the time to start peaking.

Tony Bandle 1 year, 7 months ago

Not So Random Thoughts:

1] Sadly, it's the missed bunnies that make him a good player...not a great one.

2] Didn't see the sign but it sounds like a unity pledge...or not.

3] Yep, same thing on the NFL, ads on NHL Hockey helmets, etc., etc., etc.

4] In the first half the ball was handled like it was covered with COVID bacteria.

5] If Bill fulfills that trend this season he will be named Coach Of All Eternity!!!!

6] & 7] Ditto.

8] Cade is good but the number one pick as a freshman.....c'mon.

9] Confidence sure, but he needs to get his "gym rat" mean streak back!!!

Bill Pitcher 1 year, 7 months ago

I believe KU’s streak in the AP men’s bball top 25 was the longest ever, please correct me if I’m wrong.

Tony Bandle 1 year, 7 months ago

Bill, you are correct. KU broke the previous record streak by UCLA earlier this season. This record streak of 12 years may never be matched or broken again. UCLA, UK. Duke, Michigan State, UNC all have to start over.

Twelve Years.....Holy Moly!!!!

Steve Zimmerman 1 year, 7 months ago

For now, let's just be happy we won this ugly game. We got bailed out by opponent's ugly performance, 34 FT calls - and some good efforts from David, Braun.

But it's hard to be excited when watching our team played like disorganized bball. Agbaji gave away a possession just like that, can't throw lob, Wilson can't even pass, can't dunk - Marc can't pass good passes, but at least looked great defensively. Improvement is there, we also see consistency in starters' double digit production. Like Smith said we're running out time. I just wish to see David's show his teeth, dunking those bunnies instead of using glass with his left. I wish Jaylen (his floaters look good, though) knows how to drive with style, with bounce, varying pace, with fakes - those nifty moves to the basket. Same with Agbaji. Give it all you got, guys!!! Rock Chalk!

Adam Bengtson 1 year, 7 months ago

ESPN has got to find something new to say. Fran saying the tired phrase” this is not a vintage bill self team” just gets old.

Trace Stark 1 year, 7 months ago

While I sympathize with all these announcers... calling a game from the basement has challenges... totally agree! Vitale can go long stretches without mentioning there's a game on. Rafferty rarely/if ever denotes just who is referring to, team or player (They've got this!)... the list goes on & on...

Dirk Medema 1 year, 7 months ago

Encouraging when 2 wings get double doubles.

They got to the FT stripe by attacking the basket, but won the game by making their FTs. Nearly perfect. Reminiscent of 13-14 in the ‘08 NC game.

Mark Wooden 1 year, 7 months ago

Bunnies are hard to shoot. Small and wiry little things.

Tony Bandle 1 year, 7 months ago

And they're really quick and blend well into the background.

Bryce Landon 1 year, 7 months ago

And they love to ask you, "What's up, Doc?"

Armen Kurdian 1 year, 7 months ago

OSU played worse than we did, just a very sloppy game, painful to watch at times. Did what we had to to win, and going to ISU is in no way a gimme in this season. We've got to get another win against TT, BU, UT, OU, one of the other ranked teams I think to get ourselves into the 5-line. I know this is a hard year, this is not last year's team, have to keep remembering that. Although DMac keeps missing the bunnies, he doesn't get discouraged and keeps at it until he heats up, which is encouraging.

Armen Kurdian 1 year, 7 months ago

OSU played worse than we did, just a very sloppy game, painful to watch at times. Did what we had to to win, and going to ISU is in no way a gimme in this season. We've got to get another win against TT, BU, UT, OU, one of the other ranked teams I think to get ourselves into the 5-line. I know this is a hard year, this is not last year's team, have to keep remembering that. Although DMac keeps missing the bunnies, he doesn't get discouraged and keeps at it until he heats up, which is encouraging.

Blake Brown 1 year, 7 months ago

Another hard to watch first half with sloppy play by both teams and the jittery, spastic, out of control antics of DMac. I'm thinking, it just isn't going to change and then it did. Great 2nd half considering the last 5 weeks of less than good anythings. Our bench sucks. I'm not even sure it will be better when Bryce returns unless he can get it together real quick and he hasnt shown that's a realistic expectation. Hopefully, no hiccups in the next 3 games and then its the true challenge against Tech, Texas and Baylor. Our first half last night was not very encouraging. We scored 50 in the 2nd half. When was the last time that happened?
Rock Chalk!

Barry Weiss 1 year, 7 months ago

both teams were scrappy, it had the feel of a tournament game. DMac continues to shine, just in time.

Edward Daub 1 year, 7 months ago

Cade is the greatest Cunningham since the "Kangaroo Kid" Billy!

Thomas Harrison 1 year, 7 months ago

Kansas wanted the game more than OSU, and NEEDED it! Much more aggressive defense! If shooting improves, last few Games can ease the pain of this Season!!!!

James Donnell 1 year, 7 months ago

DMac had a great game, but he is so amped up all the time it makes him less effective (and hard to watch at times). Everything he does is sped up or too forceful, hence the missed bunnies banging off the backboard, passes that are too hard, shots taken too quickly (even a couple FT’s), etc. Ease off the caffeine and power drinks, Dave!

Bryce Landon 1 year, 7 months ago

As I listened to the game, it felt like the first time since before the Texas game where Kansas showed improvement and got better. It was the first time since the home win over Oklahoma that Kansas showed grit and toughness. It was the first time in a long time that I thought to myself, "This is the Kansas I know and love!"

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