Well, KU’s end-game luck had to run out eventually. After winning 15-straight games that were decided by less than 10 points, KU came up a point short in overtime in Manhattan Tuesday night.
KU missed 10 free throws and 23 3-pointers. They had the ball at the end of regulation and overtime and didn’t get a shot off either time. They had the ball at the end of the first half and a chance to run out the clock. Instead Gradey Dick drove into traffic, was fouled, and hit one of two free throws. Seconds later Keyontae Johnson hit a short jumper at the buzzer to put the Wildcats up by five at the half.
The Jayhawks still only lost by one on the road to a top 15 team. With three starters fouled out and another (possibly) playing concussed.
It takes a lot to kill this KU squad.
The only true bad luck of the night was Bill Self calling a timeout with about 40 seconds left in overtime, just before Jalen Wilson swished a 30-foot shot that would have put KU up four. After the timeout KU couldn’t get a shot off and the Wildcats hit the game-winner.
That was, by almost every measure, a good loss. But it coming to the Purples makes it sting a lot more than it should, and makes the replaying of the dozens of little moments that cost KU a point or two even more bitter.
There’s also the specter of what lies ahead. Any loss in the Big 12 can quickly turn into a nasty losing streak. KU hosts TCU Saturday, probably the team they matchup with the worst in the conference. Then go to Baylor. Then to Kentucky. Then host K-State. Then go to Ames. Then host Texas. Shit can get sideways really fast, so every close loss seems even bigger than normal.
After the first few minutes, when he had his shot blocked at least three times, Wilson was fantastic. Had his late 3 counted, he would have tied Andrew Wiggins for the most points scored by a KU player under Self. He’s been super inefficient in recent weeks, but was nails last night. A W in Manhattan on his shot would have propelled him back into the national POY conversation.
The rest of KU? Everyone had their struggles. Well, not KJ Adams, who was incredible during KU’s first-half comeback but disappeared in the second half.
DaJuan Harris had 11 assists but three terrible turnovers in crunch time. I really wondered if he was concussed after hitting his head on the floor. Maybe that explains that poor decision making late?
Gradey Dick had a horrible night shooting from behind the arc, going 1–8. That will happen. But, man, some of them were wiiiiiide open. He still managed to pitch in 16 points, grab seven rebounds, and get four steals and two blocks. K-State kept picking on him on defense, and he either got beat badly to give up layups or committed cheap fouls. I don’t know if he was ever going to hit another 3, but it sure would have been nice having him on the court instead of fouled out thanks to three soft fouls that came from being in bad position instead of making any real effort to stop his man.
Kevin McCullar had been poor for a couple weeks, but was flat-out bad Tuesday. I wondered if he was sick. He looked literally shaky. He nearly air-balled two free throws. He did airball a 3 and hit the side of the backboard with another. He seemed a step slow on defense. Hopefully he did just have a bug of some kind and can rebound Saturday.
I had to laugh when KC Star beat writer Shreyas Laddha Tweeted that he had never seen a team as good as KU miss as many layups as they do. If you didn’t know he was new to the KU beat, that would be an obvious tell. Seriously, KU misses a TON of shots right at the rim. At least three on the break last night, as guys got stuck between laying it up, dunking it, and worrying about the defense. Easy for me to say sitting on my 51-year-old ass in Indianapolis, but come on, fellas!
I’m guessing for a neutral this was a great game to watch. Well, except for the officiating, which was atrocious. Now, it was called pretty evenly. But it was as if the refs decided about 30 minutes in, “OK, this is a rivalry game, it’s close, we need to blow the whistle on every play.” KSU’s Johnson was called for two fouls when he was just in the vicinity of someone falling down. He was given an and-one, and fouled out McCullar in the process, when he flew by McCullar and Adams without being touched. Nae’Qwan Tomlin fouled out on a play when another K-State player clearly was the guilty party. Wilson had a clean steal in overtime that a ref decided he needed to blow the whistle on. He was also hammered on one drive, a shove from Tomlin nearly knocked him over, with no call. Two possessions later he flipped a runner at the rim with the mildest contact and drew a foul.
Oh, and worst call of the night was when they stopped play, with K-State driving to the hoop, because Wilson was cramping in the backcourt. Pretty much everyone in my various KU chats said “Oooh, that was a really bad call. And lucky for us!”
Those are just the examples that I can think of immediately. Worse than the bad/wrong calls were the sheer number of whistles. There were 49 fouls called in 45 minutes. The game was physical, but never egregious or nasty. It was just two really good teams battling. And the refs decided they needed to take it over. Even then they couldn’t do it with any consistency. Quite the commercial for the Big 12!
You always laugh when your rival hires a new coach and the fanbase gets irrationally excited about it. That’s a fundamental part of rivalries. “Oh, sure, Roy Williams is shaking in his shoes thinking about how to match wits with Jim Wooldridge.” So when K-State fans immediately suggested that hiring Jerome Tang would turn K-State into Baylor north, it was easy to be amused.
You can’t draw big conclusions from half a season, but Tang seems legit. Even assistants who have a good feel for the game can struggle when they have to be The Man. Tang doesn’t seem afraid of the moment and made some really nice calls last night. With Baylor not matching preseason expectations (yet), KU fans can turn this into another way to bash Scott Drew, suggesting Tang was the real brains in the operation down there.
So now KU is 5–1 in the conference, tied with K-State and Iowa State a third of the way through the schedule. I’m not sure anyone can make any safe assumptions about how the next third of the slate will go. Six games seems like an eternity when every night brings a physical matchup with another good to very good team. Just when you think you have confidence in any squad, they could easily go through an 0–2 week and prove that belief misguided.
- Although it’s going to take a lot for Purdue’s Zach Edey to not clean up all the national POY awards this year. ↩