Jackson steps back into starting lineup as Self says injury won’t keep McCullar out long

Kansas guard Elmarko Jackson (13) pulls up for a three during the first half on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024 at Allen Fieldhouse. Photo by Nick Krug

The Kansas men’s basketball team was without guard Kevin McCullar Jr. for the first time all season in Tuesday night’s win over Oklahoma State, despite a variety of bumps and bruises he’s taken over the course of the year. KU coach Bill Self said he doesn’t expect this latest injury, a bone bruise, to keep McCullar out long.

“It’s kind of created a similar situation that the other one did,” Self said postgame, in an apparent reference to McCullar’s knee bruise that Self had previously discussed after the Cincinnati game on Jan. 22, “but it’s not something that is going to keep him from playing over time. But if he’d have played today, he’d have been 50% or 60%, and then you risk him (getting) hit again.”

Instead, the Jayhawks started freshman guard Elmarko Jackson, who had gone to the bench early in the Big 12 Conference slate and been replaced by Johnny Furphy in the starting lineup. Jackson had a bit of a redemptive performance with 10 points against the Cowboys, after having scored eight total in the rest of league play.

“It was just staying confident in my work, and the work that I put in leading up to this game,” Jackson said, “and trusting my teammates, and them having trust in me to pass the ball to me in open circumstances.”

The road to Jackson’s start began when, he said, McCullar had been “kind of shaky” during the team’s shootaround, and then Jackson found out he was getting the start immediately prior to the game.

Asked what McCullar had said to him ahead of the game, Jackson relayed his teammate’s three words: “You good, boy.” That wasn’t the extent of McCullar’s contributions to Tuesday night’s matchup, though.

“Kevin was just helpful, as much as when he’s on the court (as) when he’s off,” forward KJ Adams said, “because he helps people during the game and when we have timeouts.”

As for a potential return to action, Self said that McCullar would not practice Wednesday and that they’d see about Thursday and Friday, ahead of Saturday’s showdown against Houston.

In the meantime, Self said he was happy to see Jackson have a strong showing: “He’s had a great attitude and hadn’t had many things go right for him, but tonight was good.” For his part, Jackson said it was the most comfortable he had felt on the floor in a while, and that he was gaining more experience with in-game reads, the sorts of things he couldn’t train in practice.

Self said Jackson’s defense does have plenty more room for improvement.

“When he’s alert and turned up, he can guard, really guard,” Self said, “but if he forgets maybe a switch or who he’s guarding or something like that, then it doesn’t look as good, and that happened a couple times too.”

OSU had its own efforts marred by losing a player Tuesday night, as former Jayhawk Bryce Thompson left the game with what coach Mike Boynton described as a shoulder injury.

Boynton didn’t provide much of an update on his status postgame, though Self called his former player a “Kansas killer” in his last few games against the Jayhawks and said that his absence certainly negatively impacted the Cowboys’ chances.


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