KU’s supporting cast steps up in win over Kansas State
Let’s pretend someone could see the future and was able to share the final box score with you ahead of Tuesday’s rematch between No. 8 Kansas and No. 7 Kansas State.
That prophecy revealed K-State’s duo of Keyontae Johnson and Marquis Nowell were going to combine for 45 points, while Jalen Wilson and Gradey Dick would finish with 29 points for Kansas.
Any reasonable person would assume the Wildcats had a chance to sweep the Jayhawks based on those numbers. Instead, KU’s supporting cast rose to the occasion in a resounding 90-78 victory over Kansas State inside Allen Fieldhouse during the second installment of the Sunflower Showdown.
That was certainly the verdict when first-year head coach Jerome Tang was asked what was the difference in the rivalry rematch.
“I think (Kansas) did a better job of stopping the other guys around us,” Tang said. “They did a good job of taking those guys away and said, ‘OK, let’s see if these two dudes can beat us.’ That looked like what the game plan was.”
As for K-State’s defensive game plan, Tang admitted that his team wanted to dare someone other than Wilson or Dick to make shots. Wilson, who scored 38 points against the Wildcats on Jan. 17, finished with 20 points in Tuesday’s meeting on 5-of-15 shooting. Dick ended up with nine points on 2-of-8 shooting after fishing with 16 points the first time around.
“The game plan was obviously to slow Jalen down and Gradey,” Nowell said. “I feel like we did a good job, but Kansas has really good players so other people stepped up.”
BOX SCORE: Kansas 90, Kansas State 78
That they did. Several different players provided a scoring punch for the Jayhawks, who improved 18-4 on the year and 6-3 in Big 12 play.
Dajuan Harris Jr. matched a career-high with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting, which included knocking down the game’s opening triple and a key 3-pointer in the closing stretch. Kevin McCullar Jr. didn’t hit a shot inside the arc, but drilled a pair of 3-pointers to finish with 16 points.
Nine different players scored for KU, with the bench providing 19 points in the win.
“When our bench comes in and plays with the confidence that it did today,” Wilson said. “It kind of just makes us better all around, offense and defense.”
Wilson was responsible for 35.7% of the team’s scoring over the previous four games dating back to that first K-State meeting, but the Jayhawks needed just a 26.3% usage rating this time around. He only took 15 of the team’s 67 shots on Tuesday, as role players were ready to fire.
For the season, Wilson has a usage rating of 29.1% and Dick has the next-highest clip at 19.6%. Wilson’s usage rating is the highest of any Kansas starter since Thomas Robinson posted a usage rating of 29.4% during the 2011-12 season.
The Kansas offense will continue to run through Wilson, who is firmly No. 2 in Ken Pomeroy’s latest Player of the Year ratings. Dick, who is one of the best shooters in the country, also will remain a focal point of every defensive game plan.
But Tuesday’s performance demonstrated what this team is capable of when the supporting cast steps up in the scoring department. Kansas posted an offensive efficiency of 112.7 against Kansas State, which marked the team’s best performance since posting a clip of 124.2 during a blowout win over Missouri on Dec. 10.
If that is a sign of things to come, the Jayhawks are in a pretty good position entering the final month of the regular season.
“We are going to be decent offensively, or pretty good offensively, if they have to guard five guys,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said.