Kevin McCullar Jr.’s return sparks No. 9 Kansas in 91-65 rout of Seton Hall
Kansas senior Kevin McCullar Jr. was back on the floor and in his regular spot in the starting lineup for the ninth-ranked Jayhawks, who rolled over Seton Hall 91-65 on Thursday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
After missing Monday’s win over Texas Southern, McCullar played 35 minutes and showed no signs of the pulled groin slowing him down.
McCullar and Kansas coach Bill Self both said they knew he would play on Thursday after he made it through a complete practice Wednesday.
“It was just sore and stuff, so I sat out the Texas Southern game and tonight it felt good and it was a big W for us,” said McCullar, whose 17 points were the most of his Kansas career to date. “It was just listening to my body. I’ve been through more severe stuff than that.”
The Texas Tech transfer was active on both ends throughout the first half, finishing the half with eight points, four rebounds (two offensive) and a steal. He also hit three of five field goals and buried both of his 3-point attempts.
For the game, McCullar finished with a team-high 17 points and added 10 rebounds. He checked out with just over 9:30 to play and Kansas leading by 25 but checked back in less than two minutes later to help Kansas close out the game.
“It was a good game for sure,” he said. “I kind of just tried to start it on the defensive end and just let my offensive game come. I just tried to make winning plays and my teammates put me in position to knock down open shots.”
Added Self: “I thought he was great. That was the best offensive game Kevin’s played all year. He was efficient, he got us off to a good start, he was confident. And that was probably the least efficient offensive game, other than Tennessee, that Gradey (Dick) and Jalen (Wilson) have played. So it was good to see Kevin step up.”
McCullar tweaked his groin late in the game after being dragged down to the floor during a scrum for a loose ball. But he said he was not worried about it having a negative impact on his overall health.
“I hopped back up and it’s good,” he said. “I’ll get back to treatment (Friday) and I’ll be ready for sure.”
McCullar hit three of four 3-pointers on the night and his second, from the deep corner in front of the Seton Hall bench, put the Jayhawks (8-1) up 23-14 and hit nothing but net.
The Pirates (4-4) scored back-to-back buckets to cut the lead back down to five, though, making KU earn everything it got throughout the night.
KJ Adams (11 points in 16 minutes) responded with a personal seven-point run for the Jayhawks and Dick’s two free throws and jumper by Dajuan Harris Jr. (10 points, 7 assists and 3 steals) pushed the Jayhawks out to an 11-3 run and a 34-21 lead, their largest of the night to that point.
Three of Adams’ seven points came in three trips to the free throw line, which was noteworthy given the fact that he entered the game just 4-of-16 at the line so far this season.
Harris followed up Adams’ run by scoring eight straight Kansas points himself to close the half. KU led 40-29 at the break.
It was Dick’s turn for a scoring streak in the second half. His four consecutive points — two at the free throw line and two on an offensive rebound and put-back — gave the Jayhawks a 46-31 lead and inspired the Pirates to call timeout.
Dick and Wilson both scored 15 points, with Wilson adding a game-high 13 rebounds.
“We made shots early from 3, which gave us a little bit of a lead, we never guarded them, but we rebounded the ball decent and we got a lot of steals,” Self said, calling it a solid performance but “nothing to get giddy about.”
The 15 steals were the most by a Kansas team in a single game since recording 15 against Towson in 2011.
Given the chance for early playing time, KU freshman Ernest Udeh Jr. made plays on both ends before checking out with two first-half fouls.
In four minutes, Udeh grabbed two rebounds and scored four points, both buckets coming off of vicious dunks. The first came off of a zip pass from the wing through the paint from Dajuan Harris Jr. The second on a pick-and-roll pocket pass from Gradey Dick.
“I feel like tonight I did what I needed to do to help the team get a win,” Udeh said after recording 10 points and 2 rebounds in 15 minutes. He made all four shot attempts and even was 2-for-2 at the free throw line.
Both of his biggest finishes brought the Allen Fieldhouse crowd to its feet and electrified Udeh’s teammates on the floor. Later, Udeh, who has been lauded for his ability to finish lobs, did just that on a feed from Dajuan Harris to give the Jayhawks a 48-31 lead early in the second half.
Those individual stretches of success were indicative of just how much of a team victory Thursday’s win was.
“I just feel like it’s great when we all can move the ball (and) share the ball,” Udeh said. “We’re all able to score, and it was a good team win.”
“We’re hard to guard when that ball moves,” he said. “We were pretty efficient the second half – 67% and 12 of 14 from the line.”
Six Jayhawks reached double figures in scoring, eight played double-digit minutes and Adams and Udeh combined to give KU a spark in the frontcourt, where production had been missing.
In many ways, Seton Hall matched KU’s intensity and physicality from the jump, but the Pirates opened the game with eight misses from 3-point range before making their first basket from long range and also shot just 11-of-22 at the free throw line through the first 25 minutes of action.
For the game, the Pirates shot just 21% from 3-point range and 59% at the free throw line.
Thursday’s game was the start of a stretch of three consecutive games against power conference opponents for the Jayhawks, who are off until next Saturday’s showdown with Missouri in Columbia.
The last stretch against Power 5 foes left the Jayhawks exhausted and with a 2-1 record. Of course, those games against NC State, Wisconsin and Tennessee came during three consecutive days.
“This is different because there’s a lot of practice time between them,” Self said. “We could’ve played Wisconsin better if we had time to prep for them. They could’ve played us better, probably, if they had more time to prep for us.”
The fact that the Jayhawks handled Seton Hall the way they did was an encouraging sign for the team’s progress. Because of their game with Texas Southern earlier in the week — and an off day on Tuesday – the Jayhawks had what Self said was “90 minutes” to prepare for the Pirates.
That proved to be plenty, and Kansas figures to gain confidence from the win and definitely will benefit from the seven days between games.
The KU-Mizzou clash is slated for 4:15 p.m. on Dec. 10.
Last year, in the first game between the two border rivals since 2012, Kansas clobbered Missouri, 102-65, at Allen Fieldhouse.
After the Tigers, the Jayhawks will return to Allen Fieldhouse on Dec. 17 to host No. 10 Indiana, which just knocked off North Carolina in convincing fashion at home on Wednesday night.