On Tuesday, Kansas center Landen Lucas did something that Joel Embiid and Cliff Alexander never accomplished.
The junior center pulled down a career-high 16 rebounds, the most by a Kansas player in more than two calendar years, to help the No. 6 Jayhawks extract revenge on No. 10 West Virginia. The 75-65 final created a three-way tie atop the Big 12 between Kansas, West Virginia, and Oklahoma, with seven games remaining in the race.
Lucas played a season-high 29 minutes, the second-highest total of his career, and scored nine points to go along with 16 rebounds and a season-high four blocks. He accounted for nearly half of his team’s rebounding total (16 of 33, 48%) and exactly half of KU’s block output (four of eight).
The Jayhawks never trailed on Tuesday night, jumping out to a quick 13-4 lead five minutes into the game. However, for the rest of the contest, the game was played between a window of Kansas by three and Kansas by 12. As a team, the Jayhawks shot 56% from the floor in the full game.
After the rough start, West Virginia quickly closed the gap to 28-24 by getting the ball into the paint and initiating contact. Devin Williams, who scored eight of his 14 points in the first 15 minutes of the game, was the catalyst. West Virginia missed its first six three-pointers, but Jaysean Paige buried a deep one at the very end of the half to pull the Mountaineers within seven. Despite playing poorly on offense all half, West Virginia was in the game.
In the second half, the Mountaineers clipped away by outscoring Kansas 9-4 in the first four minutes. Kansas answered with an 8-0 run, capped by Brannen Greene’s second three-pointer of the game. After playing just one minute on Saturday, Greene played 16 minutes and scored 10 points, the most he’s had since December.
The game was essentially even for the last 10 minutes. The Jayhwaks turned the ball over on five straight possessions following the 8-0 run, but West Virginia failed to take advantage, missing shot after shot at the rim.
Just four weeks ago, then-No. 1 Kansas walked into Morgantown and was promptly thumped by West Virginia, turning the ball over a season-worst 22 times en route to a double-digit loss. In the rematch, Kansas still turned the ball over 15 times, but West Virginia’s transition offense was held in check by the Jayhawk defense.
Frank Mason III, who turned the ball over a career-worst seven times in that matchup, had just two turnovers in 37 minutes in the rematch.
Perry Ellis led Kansas with 21 points. He’s averaging 20.6 points and 7.4 rebounds in conference play. If it weren’t for a kid named Buddy, he’d probably be the front-runner for Big 12 player of the year.
The Mountaineers entered Tuesday night having won three of the last four meetings against Kansas, and the lone loss required West Virginia blowing an 18-point second half lead before eventually falling in overtime last March.
After the game, Bill Self praised Lucas by calling him the “best player in the game.” Not only did he haul in 16 rebounds, but he did it against one of the nation’s best rebounding teams. West Virginia is top 40 nationally in rebounds, but it entered Tuesday as the Big 12’s top team on the boards. The Mountaineers also lead the nation in offensive rebounds per game. Lucas hauling in 12 defensive boards was the reason that Kansas won its 37th straight game at Allen Fieldhouse.
Lucas’ 16 boards are the most by a Kansas player since Andrew Wiggins had 19 at Iowa State on January 13, 2014.
Up next for the Jayhawks: No. 6 Kansas travels to Norman for a matchup against No. 3 Oklahoma, with first place on the line in the Big 12. The last time those two teams met, it was a pretty decent game.
- Landen Lucas: nine points (4/5 FG), 16 rebounds, four blocks, 29 minutes. The only blemish on his statline is that he bricked a free throw that would have given him his second career double-double.
- Perry Ellis: 21 points (7/9 FG) and one rebound in 38 minutes. He has led KU in scoring in three straight games, and five of the last six. I’m also not concerned about the one rebound because Lucas hauled in just about every possible board around him.
- Frank Mason: 14 points (3/7 FG, 7/8 FT) and just two turnovers in 37 minutes. It was probably his best performance since the Texas Tech game on January 9.
- Devonte’ Graham: 10 points (3/6 FG), four assists, and a career-worst five turnovers in 38 minutes. Don’t look into that last part too much; he tried to do too much at times against the nation’s best team at forcing turnovers. He’ll be fine.
- Brannen Greene: 10 points (2/3 FG, 4/4 FT) in 16 minutes.
- Wayne Selden: 11 points (4/9 FG) in 26 minutes. He sat most of the first half after picking up a taunting technical foul.
- Jamari Traylor, Cheick Diallo, and Carlton Bragg combined for no points and two rebounds in 12 minutes.
- Svi Mykhailiuk did not score in four minutes, all of which came in the first half.
- Kansas shot 56% from the floor, 41% from the three-point line, and 82% at the free throw line.
- West Virginia: 37%, 25%, and 73%.
- Kansas out-rebounded West Virginia, 33-28, and blocked eight shots to WVU’s two.