Benton Smith: KU’s defense disrupts Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton in 79-53 thumping

photo by: Associated Press

Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton (22) looks to pass the ball around Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Ames, Iowa — There hasn’t been a more daunting individual assignment for Iowa State opponents this season than being the unlucky defender tasked with stopping Tyrese Haliburton.

And with the Jayhawks’ smartest and surest stopper not at his physical best Wednesday night at Hilton Coliseum, it would take a number of Kansas guards — not just Marcus Garrett — to harass ISU’s do-everything 6-foot-5 sophomore guard.

Haliburton didn’t score his first basket until 4:31 into the second half, as Garrett, Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji combined to keep the Cyclones’ most important offensive player out of wack in KU’s 79-53 thumping of ISU.

Garrett began the Jayhawks’ Big 12 road debut sticking with and disrupting ISU’s potential NBA lottery pick, paving the way for an uncharacteristically unproductive outing for Haliburton: 5 points, five assists, 2-for-7 shooting and three turnovers in 36 minutes.

The No. 3 Jayhawks wouldn’t be able to lean on Garrett to do that job all night. Though Garrett limited Haliburton, who had scored 22 points in three straight games and came into ISU’s conference home opener averaging 17.7 points, to 0-for-1 shooting with two assists in the game’s first 7:33, Garrett badly hurt his left ankle and checked out.

With Garrett getting his injury examined in the locker room, the unenviable assignment became Agbaji’s. Staying in front of Haliburton in the open floor proved especially difficult for Agbaji during one sequence, but KU’s sophomore guard held his own.

The job of stifling Haliburton soon became Dotson’s when Agbaji took a breather on the bench, and the quickness of KU’s starting point guard allowed him to keep up with the crafty Haliburton.

Garrett finally got cleared to return and checked back into the game with 1:54 left until halftime. But with KU’s best defender still somewhat hobbled, even the tough-minded Garrett couldn’t carry the burden alone. KU’s trio of starting guards all took their stabs at keeping Haliburton, who had just posted a triple-double at TCU four days prior, in a nightlong funk.

“It was just different ball screen stuff,” Haliburton said of KU’s effective defense, before adding Udoka Azubuike’s presence inside also made it difficult for him and the Cyclones to get in a rhythm. “I wouldn’t say they were doing too much to bother me. I was just trying to get the ball to other guys.”

A 42.5% 3-point shooter in his first 12 games, Haliburton shot just 1 for 5 from deep versus KU’s guards. What’s more, Haliburton wasn’t even able to facilitate as a passer the way he typically does for ISU (7-7 overall, 0-2 Big 12).

Dotson called Haliburton’s off night the result of a collective effort from the Jayhawks, with their length and versatility, as they have in other wins this season, vexing opponents.

“We tried to make it hard for him,” Dotson said of the game plan, “and the guys did a great job of making it hard for him and executing.”

KU head coach Bill Self wondered aloud afterward how much a wrapped wrist hampered ISU’s star, when asked about the job his players did.

“I don’t think he’s healthy, first of all,” Self said, referencing a wrist sprain that kept Haliburton out of one recent game, but not ISU’s Big 12 opener at TCU. “I don’t think he looked 100% healthy to me. I asked him about his hand after and he said he’d be fine. He’s a good player but I think maybe the switches hurt him a little bit, because he didn’t get to have many open looks off screens because we switched so much. And I thought our ball screen defense after about 10 minutes was above average, so it eliminated a lot of passes that would normally be assists for him. He’s a good player. I think our guys took a lot of pride in not letting him get open looks behind the arc.”

There was no better way for KU to open its Big 12 road schedule, and the Jayhawks’ defense on Haliburton ended up making a runaway victory look easy.

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