Bad news is supposed to come in threes. KU seemed poised to fulfill that cliché Tuesday in Ames, IA.
Ochai Agbaji tested positive for Covid, taking the likely All-American out of a key road contest.
Remy Martin’s knee refuses to heal, and he was ruled out of the Iowa State game as well.
Throw in a game in an arena where KU is hated as much as anywhere else, against a team that believed they had beaten the Jayhawks in Lawrence a couple weeks back, and everything seemed lined up for a second-straight loss.
But rather than a third piece of bad news, it ended up being a trio of surprises that changed the narrative.
DaJuan Harris played his ass off. He was, to be honest, mixed in the first half, combining a couple tough shots and some brilliant defense with a handful of bad turnovers and passivity on offense. I was again lamenting how Harris gets taken out of his offensive game against more physical defenders, forcing the KU offense to start way too far from the hoops. But in the second half he attacked and was key to KU building a big lead shortly after halftime that was never really threatened.
This felt like a game when David McCormack would either be really good or really bad. He was really good, going 7–7 from the floor and making Iowa State pay for their defensive scheme with three long jumpers that he calmly swished. Add in 13 rebounds, a couple blocks, and generally playing under control, and it was another one of those Good Dave games that make him so frustrating. (All that good outweighed two of the worst passes any KU player has ever thrown as ISU made a charge late in the first half.)
The biggest surprise was Joseph Yesufu getting minutes and taking advantage of them. I thought he was good in his brief run in the first half, forcing two turnovers and helping KU get two transition buckets. After making a brilliant steal and assist, he went to the bench, and did not return in the first half. I was screaming at the TV, since Harris was playing passive during this stretch and ISU was trimming a 10-point deficit down to four.
Joe returned a minute into the second half and then only sat a couple minutes the rest of the game. He was really good. Especially for a guy who had played right around 20 minutes total in the first seven Big 12 games. He guarded the hell out of his man. He pushed the tempo on offense. He hit maybe the biggest shot of the game, a corner three after two-straight Cyclone triples had cut a 12-point lead in half. He also got open for an easy layup and made a great pass to setup Jalen Wilson for a tree. He was rusty, badly missing two other threes and blowing an open layup (that McCormack dunked home).
It’s been a mystery why Yesufu hasn’t played more. He seems to struggle on defense, which is the easiest way to lose minutes on a Bill Self team. But not playing at all, when Remy and Bobby Pettiford have been hurt/ineffective, made no sense. Self has never said much about Joe, I guess because he hasn’t been asked, so my assumption has been that Joe has struggled in practice, too, and thus hasn’t earned the chance to get those rare minutes of game action.
Injuries opened the door for him last night. Thank goodness he took advantage of the opportunity. Seven points, four rebounds, four assists (one turnover), and three steals in 23 minutes is a great line from a guy off the bench. If that built both some confidence in the player and some trust in the coach, Yesufu can be a big factor in the back half of the Big 12 schedule.