No. 2 Kansas runs past Oklahoma State, 87-80

It took 26 minutes for the Jayhawks to grab a lead, but their “big three” – Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham, and Josh Jackson – paced them to their 16th straight win.

No. 2 Kansas beat Oklahoma State, 87-80, on Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks are all set to take over as the No. 1 team in the AP Poll on Monday.

The Cowboys entered Saturday with an 0-4 record in Big 12 play, but they didn’t waste any time landing some quick punches on KU. Oklahoma State jumped out to a 21-10 lead before the Jayhawks went on a 9-0 run, and neither team led by more than six points until the final 21 seconds.

The problems for the Jayhawks were familiar: no depth and no rim protection. The Cowboys took it to the hole early and often in Lawrence, as Jawun Evans and Jeffery Carroll dominated early on. The Cowboys took a 40-36 lead into the locker room, and it wasn’t until Devonte’ Graham’s layup with 14 minutes left in the game until KU took its first lead.

Depth is a real problem for the Jayhawks. KU played a season-low seven players against Oklahoma State, and the starting five scored 84 of the team’s 87 points (and made all 26 of its field goals). The bench scored just five points on 1-for-6 shooting in Tuesday’s win over Oklahoma, so this is a recurring problem for KU.

As for the foul discrepancy, it looks bad. The Jayhawks shot 45 free throws, and the Cowboys shot just 11. However, the Cowboys are in the bottom 20 nationally (out of more than 350 D-I teams) when it comes to fouling their opponents. They foul a lot. They put their opponents on the free throw line a lot. On a night when the three-point shot wasn’t falling for KU (5-for-20), it drove to the basket and got a friendly whistle from the officials.

Mason (22 points), Graham (21), and Jackson (20) paced the Jayhawks. Graham was probably KU’s best player, as Mason struggled down the stretch from both the field and the free throw line. Graham made three of KU’s five three-pointers, seemingly all of which came at a much-needed time. Jackson had a double-double, his fourth of the season, with 11 rebounds to accompany his 20 points.

After Graham’s go-ahead bucket, KU didn’t trail by more than one at any point the rest of the night, though the game was neck-and-neck until the final minute. Free throws ultimately put it away, but not before some shaky interior defense led to Mitchell Solomon and his 4.3 PPG average going for a career-best 16 points.

The Cowboys aren’t a good defensive rebounding team, but the Jayhawks did fine on the defensive glass, out-rebounding Oklahoma State by nine. And the Cowboys aren’t your typical 10-7 team, either. This is a team with a stacked backcourt that’s going to improve as the season goes on. Personally, I’m not surprised that the game was close, but…

…when are we going to see KU do what we’re so used to KU doing and just put a team down from the start? Slow starts have become an epidemic for this team. Just look at their last five games: TCU jumped to a 19-9 lead. Kansas State opened the game with a 24-15 spurt. And we saw KU go into the locker room with a nine-point deficit against Oklahoma. A slow start on Monday at Iowa State would be a disaster for the Jayhawks, as the environment will be tough and fierce.

In a way, this stretch reminds me a lot of the 2012-13 Jayhawks, who won 18 straight games to start 19-1 (and 7-0 in league play), but seemingly none of those last few victories were sharp. And then, of course, they lost three straight games to send the entire state into a panic. With a murderous stretch coming up for the Jayhawks, I think it’s a very warranted fear that another frustrating streak could be on the way.

We’ll find out a lot about this team on Monday in Ames, I think. And I’m not talking about the final result. If KU gets off to a good start and plays quality defense for most of the game, I don’t think there’s much to be bummed about, even if it does lead to a five-point loss. But if Kansas falls behind 19-8 to open the night, and if the defense gets shredded in the paint by an Iowa State team that loves to run, fans are going to be very uneasy with games at West Virginia, at Kentucky, and vs. Baylor all on the horizon.

Notes:

  • Josh Jackson: 20 points (5/13 FG, 10/17 FT), and 11 rebounds in 34 minutes.
  • Frank Mason: 22 points (6/16 FG, 9/12 FT), five rebounds, and four assists in 39 minutes.
  • Devonte’ Graham: 21 points (8/14 FG) and four assists in 36 minutes.
  • Landen Lucas: seven points and 12 rebounds in 30 minutes. I’ll continue to reiterate that he is KU’s most important player, and that this team is entirely screwed if anything happens to him.
  • Svi Mykhailiuk: 14 points (5/10 FG) in 32 minutes. He’s become a bit of a foul magnet recently (14 fouls in his last four games), but his ability to do more than just shoot threes (four of his five buckets were two-pointers) has really keyed his growth.
  • Lagerald Vick: two points, five rebounds and three turnovers in 20 minutes.
  • Carlton Bragg: one point and two rebounds in nine minutes. Self isn’t looking Bragg’s way for more than two minutes at a time to give Landen Lucas a quick breather. He’s been a massive disappointment this year.
  • Mitchell freaking Solomon had 16 points in 21 minutes. For the game, Oklahoma State was led by Jeffrey Carroll with 23 points.
  • KU: 44% from the floor, 25% from three, and 67% at the line.
  • OKST: 46%, 37%, and 79%.
  • The Jayhawks out-rebounded the Cowboys, 45-36.

Ryan Landreth

I’m a recent graduate of MidAmerica Nazarene University. In addition to writing for Rock Chalk Blog, I host the Inside the Paint podcast that covers KU basketball, and I write for Royals Review in the summer. My grandma has had season tickets to Jayhawk basketball for 30 years, and I have the privilege of going to most games with her.