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LAWRENCE — Behind a handful of noteworthy performances and a dominant second half, Kansas men’s basketball earned an 85-59 victory Saturday against West Virginia in Big 12 Conference play.
The Jayhawks were once again without super-senior guard Remy Martin, but saw senior guard Ochai Agbaji (20 points, seven rebounds), senior forward David McCormack (19 points, 15 rebounds) and redshirt sophomore forward Jalen Wilson (23 points, eight rebounds) do their part to produce in Martin’s absence. The Jayhawks got off to another slow start in the first half, but recovered in style against the Mountaineers. Within minutes of the start of the second half, it was clear Kansas head coach Bill Self’s squad would pick up the win inside Allen Fieldhouse.
“Coming off of a close win like that last game (against Iowa State), I felt like we needed a game because we’re about to go on the road for two games in a row,” Wilson said. “So, I just felt like we needed something to get into some momentum and I felt like I think we all just clicked. I mean, everybody had their night and I think we just all played for each other, looked for each other.”
The Jayhawks had entered the contest ranked 10th in the latest coaches poll, while the Mountaineers were among those receiving votes. Here are a few takeaways from this latest Kansas (14-2, 3-1 in Big 12) victory against West Virginia (13-3, 2-2 in Big 12).
Remy Martin, again, watches from the bench
Kansas has now played three games without Martin this season, with this now being the second straight contest he’s missed and second overall in Big 12 play. The Jayhawks are 3-0 in those games, but clearly better with him available and healthy.
Self said he doesn’t play a part in Martin’s rehab, explaining that’s handled by trainers and doctors. Self said Martin practiced Friday and looked great, but Martin’s still dealing with the bone bruise. If Martin feels good enough to go, say like Tuesday at Oklahoma, then Martin will go, but Self said Martin didn’t feel good Saturday.
“Everybody’s got an opinion ... but I actually know more about what’s going on than all the opinions out there in this particular situation,” said Self, seeming to allude to outside speculation about Martin’s status. “Maybe not on politics or world events, but on this particular situation I actually know a hell of a (expletive) lot more than — excuse my language — some other people out there. And I shouldn’t have said that, I apologize. But the thing about it is, he’s got a bone bruise and it’s day-to-day.”
Kansas played its third and fourth point guards, freshman guard Bobby Pettiford and sophomore guard Joseph Yesufu, in Martin’s absence and to allow redshirt sophomore guard Dajuan Harris Jr. some time to rest. While neither Pettiford nor Yesufu were perfect by any means, with more time to play will come opportunities for improvement and they’ve shown flashes of what they can bring to the team. As McCormack would say, it’s a next-man-up mentality for the Jayhawks right now.
Jalen Wilson, David McCormack shine for Kansas
Agbaji is regularly having performances like this for the Jayhawks, who as a result of Saturday’s games now hold a slim lead in the Big 12 standings. What Agbaji did against the Mountaineers wasn’t a surprise, especially that 4-for-8 mark from behind the arc. In a first half when Kansas struggled at times offensively, Agbaji was a steady presence alongside Wilson and McCormack.
But given the moments where Wilson and McCormack have struggled this season, especially offensively, it was all the more important to see them do that in the first half. It was all the more important to see them do that in the second half, too. Wilson shot 10-for-13 from the field, with a 3-for-6 mark on 3s, while McCormack went 9-for-13 from the field.
Neither Wilson nor McCormack had better offensive performances in that way before this season, and Wilson also added five assists while McCormack had three.
“(Wilson) is my boy, so I can tell when he has a hot hand or he can tell when to make the right read for a pass,” said McCormack, speaking to a point in the game where the two of them shared a celebratory moment together. “And we just, like I said, had that type of connection just to make a great play.”
Second-half surge propels Jayhawks to win
Kansas trailed by as many as eight points in the first half against West Virginia, and appeared to be headed toward another taxing, 40-minute contest like Self and company had the game prior against Iowa State. But then the Jayhawks outscored the Mountaineers 19-9 heading into halftime to lead 33-31. Then Kansas carried the second half by a 52-28 margin and led by as many as 27 points.
McCormack said that in the second half they bought into Self’s emphasis on moving the ball side-to-side offensively to open up the opportunities they were looking for. That reality is evidenced by a 22-for-36 clip from the field and 5-for-11 clip from behind the arc, for Kansas, in the final 20 minutes. By comparison, West Virginia shot just 10-for-32 from the field and 1-for-5 from behind the arc in that time.
“There’s a lot of things that happen in a game, like — the dam kind of burst in the second half,” said Self, whose team led points in the paint 54-20. “That’s not real … It could happen to us, it could happen to anybody. We got on a roll there, but the way that we played to start the second half, I would say, is indicative to how we hoped to play.”
Overall, Kansas shot 36-for-70 from the field, 8-for-21 from behind the arc and 5-for-9 from the free-throw line. West Virginia shot 17-for-63 from the field, 4-for-18 from behind the arc and 21-for-28 from the free-throw line. Fifth-year Mountaineers guard Malik Curry reached 23 points, in large part because he finished 11-for-11 from the free-throw line.
Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: In latest Big 12 matchup, Kansas men’s basketball upends West Virginia