Back from injury, Kevin McCullar Jr. shines as Kansas basketball routs Seton Hall for win

LAWRENCE — It appeared as if there was only one moment Thursday when Kevin McCullar Jr. was still dealing with some level of pain.

McCullar, back after a one-game absence due to a strained groin, had just been fouled. A little more than six minutes remained in the second half of Kansas basketball’s game against Seton Hall. McCullar, who’d suffered that injury during the Jayhawks’ time at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas, grimaced and began to limp a little.

But McCullar, who wasn’t pulled from the game after that moment, went on to hit both free throws. The redshirt senior guard went on to finish with a team-high 17 points in No. 9 Kansas’ 91-65 win against Seton Hall. And as more challenges await on the Jayhawks’ schedule, McCullar gave more confidence to those curious to the extent to which he’d contribute significantly again to Kansas’ repeat effort.

“It was a good game, for sure, tonight,” said McCullar, asked to evaluate his own performance. “Kind of just tried to start it on the defensive end and just let my offensive game come. I just tried to make winning plays, and my teammates put me in position to knock down open shots.”

Kansas redshirt senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr. (15) looks back after sinking a three during the first half of Thursday's game against Seton Hall inside Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas redshirt senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr. (15) looks back after sinking a three during the first half of Thursday's game against Seton Hall inside Allen Fieldhouse.

McCullar noted he knew he’d be able to play Thursday after going through practice on Wednesday. It wasn’t about returning quickly, he explained. He just listened to his body, with the understanding he’s dealt with more significant injuries in the past.

Had Jayhawks head coach Bill Self not seen McCullar practice Wednesday, he may not have played McCullar. But Self did, and was told McCullar could go. So, McCullar was back in the starting lineup to face Seton Hall (4-4).

McCullar wound up shooting 6-for-10 from the field, 3-for-4 from behind the arc and 2-for-2 from the free-throw line. He added 10 rebounds as he finished with his second double-double this season. On a night when Self wasn’t pleased with how Kansas (8-1) played defensively, there was plenty to highlight offensively from McCullar and others.

“I thought he was great,” Self said. “I thought that was the best offensive game Kevin’s played all year. He was efficient. He got us off to a good start. He was confident. And defensively, his hands are so good he got four steals, I think.”

Kansas head coach Bill Self consults with his staff during the second half of Thursday's game against Seton Hall inside Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas head coach Bill Self consults with his staff during the second half of Thursday's game against Seton Hall inside Allen Fieldhouse.

McCullar’s defense is what made his addition as a transfer from Texas Tech so valuable ahead of this season. Defense seemed like it would be what helped the Jayhawks defend their share of the Big 12 Conference’s regular season title, outright capture of the Big 12 tournament and more. And that very well may still be the case.

But during a game in which freshman guard Gradey Dick struggled to get going before scoring 13 of his 15 points in the second half, McCullar didn’t play like the third option behind Dick and redshirt junior forward Jalen Wilson. Efficiently, McCullar showcased during this Big 12/Big East Battle event he’s capable of being the first option when needed. Now it’s just a matter of sustaining that effort as Missouri awaits Dec. 10 and Indiana comes to Lawrence Dec. 17.

Missouri (8-0) is undefeated, albeit without any high-major victories. Indiana (7-0) is also undefeated, with wins against Xavier and North Carolina. The road toward a third-straight and, later, fourth-straight victory for Kansas through this stretch, becomes a lot easier for Kansas with McCullar producing as he has.

Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at jmguskey@gannett.com or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kevin McCullar Jr. shines as Kansas basketball routs Seton Hall