McDowell drew from ‘cookie jar’ in decisive moment Tuesday

photo by: AP Photo/Erin Hooley

Kansas guard Elmarko Jackson, left, and guard Jamari McDowell celebrate their team's win over Kentucky during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Chicago.

Chicago — Freshman Jamari McDowell had played, in all, under 14 minutes of college basketball when he checked in Tuesday night at the United Center.

He increased that career total by about 25% when he played the final 3:46 against No. 17 Kentucky, having spent nearly an entire game on the bench before getting thrown into the Champions Classic at the Chicago Bulls’ arena in a hotly contested battle of two blue-blood programs.

No pressure.

On a day when his fellow perimeter newcomers — freshman Johnny Furphy and Elmarko Jackson, plus veteran transfer Nick Timberlake — struggled to stem the tide against the Wildcats, it was McDowell who played tough defense on Kentucky’s fifth-year guard Antonio Reeves, McDowell who iced the 89-84 victory with a pair of free throws with five seconds to go, McDowell who was, as he put it, “made for the moment.”

“Super cool experience, and what can I say?” he said. “It’s KU basketball.”

As Kansas coach Bill Self noted postgame, McDowell accumulated a plus-minus of plus-9 — which ended up being the best mark on the whole team — in just his sub-four-minute cameo. Self said the choice to throw McDowell into the fire was made out of necessity, but that it paid off in spades.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know (that) it was so much confidence to put him in — I didn’t know who else to put in,” Self said. “It was kind of one of those deals. No, he was terrific. He was good in that limited time.”

From as soon as he arrived in Lawrence, McDowell has set out to earn his way onto the court with defense. A four-star freshman from Manvel, Texas, he doesn’t necessarily come in with the high expectations facing Jackson or Furphy — let alone the accolades of his Kentucky counterparts, who dazzled on the national stage Tuesday and comprised the consensus top recruiting class in the country.

But Self spent the preseason discussing his immediate readiness to play. And while McDowell missed the season opener due to injury, he grabbed six rebounds off the bench in his debut against Manhattan, leading Self to again praise him as the perimeter newcomer “that will get his nose dirty the most.”

When it came time to shoot the clutch free throw Tuesday, though, McDowell had to draw on what he said his father Jason calls his “cookie jar,” browsing his positive memories for “a little boost of confidence.”

“You’ve been doing it so long,” McDowell said. “You have a ton of memories of who you are, what you’ve done. And nerves just go numb and you know you’re good for the moment.”

In this case, the cookie he selected from the jar was an analogous in-game situation in which he “did the exact same thing.” With a championship on the line, no less.

It was his seventh-grade district championship — not quite the Champions Classic — but it gave him faith in the moment.

In turn, he validated the faith of his coaches and teammates.

“I told him I trust him,” said point guard Dajuan Harris Jr., who played a substantial role himself in the late surge, “and Coach, he’s big on defense. That’s what Jamari does, he plays defense, and he gives energy, and I think Coach chose him at the right moment.”

The Jayhawks will travel to Honolulu for the relocated Maui Invitational beginning Monday against Chaminade.

Box score


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