KU races past Kansas City in streaky 88-69 win

Kansas forward K.J. Adams Jr. (24) slaps his hands as he and his teammates get back on defense against Kansas City during the second half on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023 at Allen Fieldhouse. Photo by Nick Krug

Kansas started fast against Kansas City behind an unbelievable opening few minutes from Kevin McCullar Jr., but of course the Jayhawks had come out just as strong last week against Eastern Illinois and nearly found themselves on the wrong end of a historic upset.

What really mattered Tuesday night at Allen Fieldhouse, particularly after a sloppy performance entering halftime, was how KU played down the stretch. And for a time that wasn’t particularly good either. The Jayhawks extended their lead as high as 71-49 late in the second half before allowing an 18-4 run in less than four minutes, a stretch rife with fouls, turnovers and conceded 3-pointers.

It was only in the final minutes, propelled by impressive two-way play from KJ Adams and Johnny Furphy, that KU (8-1) extended the final margin to a more attractive 88-69.

On a bit of an off night for Hunter Dickinson (which was still a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double), Kevin McCullar Jr. was the primary bright spot. He had 14 points in the first seven and a half minutes of play and finished with a career-high 25, plus six rebounds and five assists.

“Trying to do everything out there, making winning plays is the ultimate goal,” McCullar said. “Just playing with great players has helped me out a lot.”

Adams had 18 points, including 16 in the second half. He said postgame that he recognized that the Roos were starting to guard Dickinson and McCullar more closely as the game went on.

“Kevin was great, but there’s no doubt KJ was the best player in the game for us,” KU coach Bill Self said.

Cameron Faas (5-for-7 from deep) and Khristion Courseault matched Adams’ total for a frequently dynamic and hot-shooting Kansas City offense. Anderson Kopp added 15 more.

“No. 30 (Faas) shoots it as good as anybody that we’ll play all year long,” Self said, “… and 13 (Courseault) had such a fabulous game and got the best of us.”

Kansas guarded well to open the night as the Roos found the ball stuck in the hands of center Allen David Mukeba Jr. with no passing options on seemingly every possession. McCullar was the driving force for the Jayhawks early on as he accounted for 10 points, including two 3s, in the first five minutes of play.

By the time Kansas City’s Marvin Menzies opted to call a timeout at the 11:15 mark, McCullar already had 14 points and five rebounds and had just slung a no-look bounce pass to Dajuan Harris Jr. for a layup in transition.

With a rapidly growing advantage, the Jayhawks went to a reserve-heavy lineup with Harris and all four non-starters and — unlike in previous games — kept up the pressure by forcing turnovers and generating open looks for the likes of Parker Braun and Nick Timberlake. KU went up as much as 20 at 31-11, though Kansas City got five straight out of a timeout and parlayed it into an 11-4 run capped off by Faas’ second 3-pointer of the game.

Kopp and Courseault added 3s of their own in short order to counter whatever inroads the Jayhawks made on offense.

The game then drew to a screeching halt when Dickinson, fairly quiet on offense to begin the night, shoved Kansas City reserve Jeff Ngandu to the ground while going for a rebound and got called for a flagrant foul upon review. Ngandu missed both free throws and Courseault was off on a 3 on the ensuing possession, meaning that KU still led 44-30 at the break. The Jayhawks had scored 27 points in the first 10 minutes but got outscored 19-17 in the game’s second quarter.

Kansas City missed its first five field goals of the half before Kopp earned a 3-point play in the post against Elmarko Jackson, but Jackson responded with a more conventional 3 at the other end. Then he got scored on again by Courseault and hit a jumper in response, as the margin remained fairly consistent.

Self had to call a timeout, though, after a no-hesitation pull-up from way beyond the arc by Faas cut the deficit to 10 for the first time in nearly 20 minutes of gameplay.

“They have a potential Final Four team, so to be able to compete, and continue to fight and not give up until the end, and to have Bill call a couple timeouts felt good,” Menzies said.

Adams hit a contested layup out of the break, Dickinson added a jumper from the free-throw line and Furphy drained a 3 after a couple of defensive stops to quiet the Roos’ threat.

The Jayhawks eventually made it back to a 20-point lead when Jackson fed McCullar for a 3-point play on the fast break with eight minutes to go.

That wasn’t quite the end of the intrigue, as Kansas City embarked on a 15-4 run aided by a 4-point play for Faas on an Adams foul and a 3-point play by Courseault.

“We totally screwed the game up, and put them in position where they definitely could make us sweat with the (last four minutes),” Self said. “But (I) just try to emphasize playing our best and being more focused and guarding your man, maybe a little differently than what we had in the prior 10 minutes or whatever.”

After a timeout, Furphy’s seven points and a steal in the final 2:37 reversed the flow of the game.

Adams said Furphy had been “kind of down on himself, felt like he didn’t play good the first half.”

“He’s a high-IQ player, does a little bit of everything,” McCullar said. “We knew he was going to come along.”

The Jayhawks will host rival Missouri Saturday at 4:15 p.m.

Box score

This story has been updated to reflect that Dickinson was assessed a flagrant foul, not a technical.


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