Kansas men’s basketball survives, defeats Stephen F. Austin for latest victory
LAWRENCE — Kansas men’s basketball earned another victory Saturday inside Allen Fieldhouse, but by no means was this 80-72 contest against Stephen F. Austin an easy win.
While the Jayhawks (9-1) led by as many as 12 points in the first half, the Lumberjacks (8-4) battled back and had slim leads in each half. While junior guard Christian Braun led Kansas with 21 points and senior guard Ochai Agbaji added 18, defensively the Jayhawks had trouble guarding Gavin Kensmil. While redshirt sophomore forward Jalen Wilson scored a season-high 10 points for Kansas, senior forward David McCormack had a lackluster evening and finished with more fouls than points.
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“We’ve got to be better,” said super-senior guard Remy Martin, asked what head coach Bill Self’s message was to the team after the game. “We know that we had the lead at first, and Ochai did a great job getting us that lead and we hit free throws but we just got to be better. I think everybody knows that and it’s on to the next game.”
Braun added: “There’s a lot to improve on, and we talked about this last night. (Self) just told us that over this break period, this is a lot of times when his team separates a little bit from the others. So, we know we have a lot to get better at and defensively … there’s so much to improve on. There’s a lot of stuff we got to tighten up. So, we got one game, Colorado, to go home, come back, we’ll regroup and we’ll just get better.”
Here are a few takeaways from the game:
Free-throw margin pays dividends for Jayhawks
Stephen F. Austin shot the ball better from the field and from behind the arc against Kansas, especially in the second half. The Lumberjacks finished 51.3 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from behind the arc, while the Jayhawks ended at 48.1 percent and 36.8 percent, respectively. But Kansas had a 21-for-27 clip from the free-throw line, and Stephen F. Austin was only 3-for-4.
Martin went 7-for-9 from the free-throw line to lead the Jayhawks, although what fans may remember most from his performance was the 3-pointer late that helped seal the victory and give him 15 points. Redshirt sophomore guard Dajuan Harris Jr. was a perfect 4-for-4, on a night he didn’t make a shot from the field. McCormack was the only Kansas player who attempted any free throws that didn’t make any, as he went 0-for-2.
Kansas struggles at times defensively
It shouldn’t be ignored, that Stephen F. Austin turned the ball over 20 times and Kansas scored 28 points as a result. But those miscues weren’t all forced by the Jayhawks and at times the Lumberjacks didn’t struggle to find success on offense. Kensmil, who had a 16-point, 12-rebound double-double, was a key reason why Stephen F. Austin finished with 48 points in the paint.
Lightfoot, who played close to 26 minutes while McCormack played just under 10, praised Kensmil’s talent after the game. And Lightfoot said as well that allowing 48 points in the paint isn’t good and they can’t allow a team to shoot the ball as well as the Lumberjacks did.
Kansas expected Stephen F. Austin to come in and play well. The Jayhawks just didn’t defend to the level they are capable of playing.
“It wasn’t just 53, it was 61 the second half,” said Self, discussing how well the Lumberjacks shot the ball. “And, they didn’t get run-outs the second half. So, that means they scored against our five. So, it’s pitiful.”
Self added he didn’t think Kansas guarded well at all, and had no answer for Kensmil. Kensmil was 8-for-13 from the field.
A resounding victory against Colorado could go a long way
While Kansas isn’t that far removed from its crushing victory at home against Missouri, the Jayhawks followed that up with a win that was probably too close for comfort for some of the fans in attendance. Stephen F. Austin didn’t lead for long when it did find itself ahead, but the Lumberjacks seemed poised at times to pull off the upset. And there isn’t much time to regroup before a road matchup Tuesday against Colorado.
But after playing Colorado, there’s a significant break until a Dec. 29 contest at home against Harvard. Topping Colorado with ease could go a long way to helping Kansas make the most of the time in between those two games. And in turn, that would put the Jayhawks in the best position to capitalize against Harvard and head into Big 12 Conference play with momentum.
“Hopefully guys understand that Christmas starts after the Colorado game and not before, because we’ve had many times where we’ve been on the road right before Christmas and it hasn’t always worked out great,” said Self, who had the Dec. 22, 2014 loss against Temple on his mind. “So, I’m hopeful for that.”
Kansas opens its Big 12 slate Jan. 1 at home against a TCU team that is 9-1 right now with wins against Texas A&M and Georgetown the last two times it’s played.
Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas men’s basketball survives, defeats Stephen F. Austin