Back and forth was the name of the game for Kansas men’s basketball against the Oklahoma Sooners, with the Jayhawks barely sliding by with a 63-59 win Saturday.
Kansas was startled by a sloppy first-half performance plagued by turnovers and scoring droughts, which essentially set the standard for the remainder of the game. It didn’t help Kansas that Oklahoma's offense was extremely impressive in the first half, especially since the team entered the game missing two of its top forwards in senior Brady Manek and sophomore Jalen Hill.
This performance proved Kansas is still on the quest to find its offensive identity. And while the Jayhawks were able to squeak out with the win, there were still some glaring inconsistencies.
Swapping back and forth between scoring droughts and runs, Kansas's offense couldn’t quite get going. There were four ties and three lead changes in the first half and the Jayhawks entered halftime with a three-minute scoring drought. The Jayhawks continued to run dry with a couple more scoring droughts in the second half, including the longest of the game for seven minutes.
The game finished with a total of seven ties and nine lead changes.
Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self said after the game the Jayhawks' offense needs to execute better to avoid defense slugfests like on Saturday.
“We've got to score and get some easier baskets," Self said. "We’re not good enough offensively to live by jump shots. We've got to figure out a way to get some easy baskets and play to some athletic ability.”
Redshirt freshman forward Jalen Wilson — who’s been one of the most consistent scorers for Kansas this season — struggled to break through against the Sooners. Wilson recorded six of the 10 Kansas turnovers in the first half and only scored two points before the break. Wilson recorded seven total turnovers out of the Jayhawks' 16.
Self was critical of Wilson’s first-half performance and credited part of it to nerves, but was proud that Wilson was able to finish the game strong.
“[Wilson] didn’t let the game come to him at all in the first half, he really didn’t do anything, didn’t guard,” Self said. “I think he was a little too amped up going against [Oklahoma sophomore guard De’Vion] Harmon, his high school teammate, so there was a little bit of a [rivalry there], and he just didn’t have his best."
"But we had his best down the stretch, which was most important,” Self continued.
Wilson woke up very late in the second half, most notably with a late three-pointer that helped seal the win for the Jayhawks. Wilson finished the game with nine points and 11 rebounds.
Junior forward David McCormack said after the game that he talked with Wilson in the locker room at halftime, and reminded him to stop overthinking it.
“I just told him, 'Do the same thing, you’ve proven that you can play, so just play your normal game,'” McCormack said. “'Don’t think, just play loose and play free.' That’s what he did — he was effective and helped us win.”
McCormack and junior guard Ochai Agbaji both stepped up in Wilson’s scoring absence. McCormack led the way with a team-high 17 points and two epic blocks, while Agbaji tallied 14 points and six rebounds on the night.
A significant part of the equation that was stopping Wilson and the rest of the Jayhawks from getting on their feet was the stifling Oklahoma defense. Senior guard Austin Reaves was explosive on defense with seven defensive rebounds and a steal. Reaves also led the Sooners on offense with 20 points and nine rebounds, shooting 7-for-14 from the field.
Kansas will next travel to Stillwater, Oklahoma, to face the Oklahoma State Cowboys Tuesday. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.