What was once a 10-point Kansas basketball lead shrunk to a single point Monday night when Texas guard Courtney Ramey drained an open transition 3-pointer with just nine seconds to go in the second half.
The Jayhawks knew what would come next — a Longhorns foul to stop the clock and send KU to the foul line. If Kansas couldn’t respond with two made free throws, UT could have a chance to tie or win the game before the buzzer sounded at Allen Fieldhouse.
Even though the Jayhawks survived for an 80-78 victory, what followed proved to be a valuable teaching moment for a team that’s relatively inexperienced in late-game, pressure situations.
Kansas coach Bill Self reminded Ochai Agbaji during a timeout at the 0:13 mark that the freshman guard needed to take the ball out if UT scored. Agbaji followed Self’s command after Ramey’s 3-pointer splashed the net and cut the home team’s lead to 79-78.
Ideally, Agbaji would have found KU’s best free-throw shooter, Devon Dotson (77.9%) in that situation. Instead, sophomore Marcus Garrett (61.2% at the foul line this season and 55% for his career) ended up taking the pass, which is exactly what the Longhorns wanted.
Garrett, though experiencing a career night offensively, was 0 for 2 at the charity stripe when he toed the line with 8.6 seconds remaining. To his credit, Garrett made the second of his potentially stressful attempts after missing his first, meaning UT would need a 3 to win instead of a 2.
Still, Self and his staff would have preferred to see the Jayhawks handle the sequence differently. And the lack of execution didn’t fall on the shoulders of Agbaji, playing in just his third college basketball game.
“We’d like to get the ball to Devon, but we didn’t do it,” Self said during his postgame press conference, when asked which Jayhawk he would want going to the free-throw line. “We’re not experienced enough to know with our guys. Ochai’s out there taking the ball inbounds and Devon’s a young guy. Obviously, in that situation you’ve got to get the ball inbounds. And I didn’t want to use our last timeout unless we had to.”
They may not have to worry about what to do with sub-40% free-throw shooter Udoka Azubuike in such situations anymore, but the Jayhawks do have to make sure they get the ball into the hands of the right player.
When Agbaji took the ball out of bounds, his possible targets were Garrett, Dotson (who was 3 for 4 at the foul line) and senior Lagerald Vick (who was 2 for 2 with 21 points). Dedric Lawson (who had made 3 of 4 freebies in the final 2:05 but missed one just before Ramey’s 3) headed toward the frontcourt, taking his defender with him and creating more space for KU’s guards to get open in the process.
Kerwin Roach stuck with Vick on the right side of the floor, Ramey did his best to deny Dotson on the left, closer to Agbaji, and UT defender Jase Febres allowed Garrett to flash toward the baseline and catch Agbaji’s pass so he could immediately foul a below-average free-throw shooter.
“Ochai’s gotta probably be smarter knowing who to get it to,” Self said. “But if (Garrett’s) the only guy open, that’s who you throw it to. I would put that on Devon and Lagerald for not working hard enough to get open as much as anything else.”
The No. 7 Jayhawks (15-2 overall, 4-1 Big 12) avoided a pitfall in crunch time. But just barely. Febres got off a 3 that would have won the game, had his shot fallen just before the buzzer.
You can bet the next time there are some must-have free throws in play, Agbaji or any other KU player making the inbounds pass will know where the ball needs to go. And either Dotson (a 77.9% shooter) or Lawson (74.5%) will likely be the Jayhawks making sure they get open.
Jayhawks’ free-throw shooting
(through 17 games)
Devon Dotson - 53 of 68 (77.9%)
Dedric Lawson - 82 of 110 (74.5%)
Charlie Moore - 10 of 14 (71.4%)
K.J. Lawson - 12 of 17 (70.6%)
Lagerald Vick - 16 of 23 (69.6%)
Quentin Grimes - 22 of 34 (64.7%)
Marcus Garrett - 30 of 49 (61.2%)
Mitch Lightfoot - 6 of 12 (50%)
David McCormack - 5 of 10 (50%)
Ochai Agbaji - 1 of 2 (50%)
By the end of Saturday night, Kansas found itself once again tied with Texas Tech atop the Big 12 standings, thanks in part to a huge performance from its massive center, Udoka Azubuike.
The Jayhawks recovered from a 12-point, second-half deficit against West Virginia at Allen Fieldhouse for a 77-69 victory, while Texas Tech lost at Baylor, making the two league title contenders both 10-4 in Big 12 games.
Here are five statistics that proved to be critical components of KU’s wild home win.
Points in the paint
KU coach Bill Self said after the comeback win he and his assistants hammered home to their players the need to “drive it, drive it, drive it” against WVU’s extended defensive pressure.
By taking on the role of the aggressors, the Jayhawks were able to survive the Mountaineers’ torrent of 3-point shooting (14 of 26).
Kansas outscored WVU 30-16 in the paint. While Azubuike gets most of the credit, what with his four dunks and three layups, his teammates supplemented the center’s ultra-high-percentage shots.
Both Marcus Garrett and Lagerald Vick contributed 4 paint-points apiece in the first half. Svi Mykahiliuk made a layup in the first and took a steal for a slam in the second. Both Vick and Malik Newman came through with much-needed lay-ins during KU’s second-half revival.
The Jayhawks’ 14-point advantage inside marked the first time in Big 12 play they enjoyed a double-digit margin in the category.
Bob Huggins-coached teams are known for their pesky defenders. And West Virginia might have the best on-ball stopper in the Big 12 in Jevon Carter.
But the Jayhawks didn’t let the Mountaineers’ style speed them up into a lesser, turnover-prone version of themselves. Kansas finished with just 8 turnovers, its second-lowest total of the season, against WVU.
The Mountaineers only came away with 4 steals over the course of 40 minutes.
In total, KU had 64 possessions, and scored (56.3% of the time) far more often than it gave the ball away (12.5%).
Few sloppy offensive trips meant only 8 points off turnovers for West Virginia. In the meantime, the Jayhawks cashed in on 13 WVU giveaways to score 15 points.
Carter’s shooting woes
KU deserves some credit for properly defending Carter down the stretch, but the WVU senior point guard shoulders some blame, too, for how the final minutes of the second half played out.
Carter only connected on 3 of 10 shots in the final half, and he often forced the issue or settled down the stretch.
In the final 10 minutes, after WVU took its largest lead of the game, Carter missed six of his eight attempts, including two errant layups. One of his makes, a 3-pointer, didn’t come until KU had all but sealed the win, with six seconds remaining.
Blocks = points
Azubuike didn’t just make his presence felt on offense, he tormented WVU playing defense, as well, particularly in crunch time. Even better for the Jayhawks, two of the center’s late-game swats led directly to scores.
Carter had a layup smacked away by Azubuike with 2:19 left and within seconds Mykhailiuk secured the ball and found Devonte’ Graham, who pitched it ahead to Newman for a game-tying 3-pointer.
With West Virginia down four and less than 20 seconds left on the clock, Azubuike was at it again, blocking a Daxter Miles Jr. attempt. Graham came away with the basketball and heaved a pass ahead for a Newman layup that pushed KU’s lead to 72-66 before Huggins got T’d up twice and ejected.
Hit ’em when they count
Even before the Jayhawks got to pad their free-throw numbers in the final seconds thanks to Huggins’ technicals, they made their trips to the foul line count late in the game.
The free throws in the final minutes were challenging because Kansas had to have them. The home team got to celebrate Saturday night because its players made 12 of 14 free throws in the last 5:00 — including 7-of-8 shooting while either trailing or ahead by 2 when stepping to the line.
Azubuike made a pair with 4:58 left to cut WVU’s lead to four.
Vick went 1 of 2 with 4:14 on the clock, making it a five-point game.
Mykhailiuk nailed a pair with 1:40 remaining to put Kansas up for the first time since the opening minute of the second half.
Graham knocked in two more with 0:24 to go, extending the lead to four.
More news and notes from Kansas vs. West Virginia
- Coming up big: Udoka Azubuike helps Jayhawks rally past WVU
- Tom Keegan: Bob Huggins’ frustrations erupt in late-game ejection
- Cole Aldrich during jersey retirement ceremony: ‘It’s humbling’
- The Keegan Ratings: Dominant Udoka Azubuike tops ratings in comeback victory vs. West Virginia
- Matt Tait's Postgame Report Card
- Comeback kids: Jayhawks rally to knock off West Virginia again