Another nail-biter: No. 2 Kansas holds off No. 14 Iowa State 62-60
The 2nd-ranked Kansas men’s basketball team won its 10th game in a row on Saturday in a thrilling, 62-60 win over No. 14 Iowa State at Allen Fieldhouse.
After the victory, which came as the program honored 125 years of Kansas basketball with players and coaches from several different eras returning for the fun, KU forward Jalen Wilson offered a subtle reminder to anyone who would listen.
“This won’t be the last close game,” Wilson said.
It also wasn’t the first.
After knocking off Oklahoma 79-75 earlier in the week and picking up one-possession wins over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech to open conference play, the Jayhawks (16-1 overall, 5-0 Big 12) have a clear understanding of what winning in the Big 12 takes.
It’s not about playing perfect basketball. Neither team did that on Saturday in a game that featured 15 lead changes and eight ties.
Kansas coach Bill Self will be the first to tell you that the KU defense messed up the very end of the game by not fouling twice when Iowa State was gunning for the game-winning or game-tying shot.
It missed, of course, and the Jayhawks were able to celebrate another big win over another good team. But that one stretch, and the dozens like it that have taken place before and are yet to come, can be the difference between winning and losing.
Iowa State coach TJ Otzelberger had the unfortunate task of sharing that news after Saturday’s game.
“That was a really good college basketball game, and they made one more play than we did,” he said.
Self agreed, saying: “I thought we played great. I thought they played great. That was a high-level game. When you play other teams that are good and well coached and confident, that’s how games go.”
And it was that way from the start.
Iowa State opened the game on a 5-0 run and that wound up being the Cyclones’ largest lead of the game. KU’s largest lead of the game was seven points (27-20) and neither team led by more than four points in the second half. Even that came in the first two minutes of the half, when Wilson hit a 3-pointer to put Kansas up 34-30.
From there, it was back-and-forth the rest of the way, with no lead being safe, all leads feeling bigger than they were and both teams fighting to the end.
Although Kansas won on the scoreboard, Iowa State may have won the battle of styles. Much like Oklahoma’s on Tuesday night, the Cyclones’ game plan coming in was to force KU off the 3-point line and to make it tough for the Jayhawks to score. It might have been if not for freshman guard Gradey Dick going nuclear, scoring 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting, with five of those makes coming from 3-point range.
Dick was quiet in the win over Oklahoma. But he said this week’s practice featured “a lot of conditioning” to help him get going again, and he found success in the simplest way.
“Just moving without the ball,” he said. “That’s what our coaches have been preaching the whole time.”
The Jayhawks shot 6-of-21 from distance on Saturday, and Wilson and Dick hit three of the biggest shots of the day.
Dick’s two biggest shots came midway through the second half, when Iowa State threatened to take two-possession leads and Dick tied the game each time. His celebratory explosion grew after each one, complete with him firing imaginary arrows into the sky after the second.
Wilson’s biggest shot of the day — on a 5-for-14 shooting afternoon — came with 1:56 to play. After first getting his shot blocked by ISU big man Osun Osunniyi in the paint, the mad scramble for the loose ball wound up slipping between a teammate’s legs and into Wilson’s hands along the baseline. In one motion, he picked it up and sent it toward the basket. It hit nothing but net and put Kansas ahead 59-57 with just under two minutes to play.
“Nobody wins games without those,” Self said. “That was a big play.”
Said Wilson of the heads-up play: “Obviously I didn’t want to get a turnover; somehow the ball just ended up in my hands and I got it up quick.”
After a couple of more trips of back-and-forth basketball, which included Iowa State’s Gabe Kalscheur tying the game with a 3-pointer from right in front of the ISU bench, Kansas had the ball with 29 seconds to play and 22 seconds on the shot clock, looking for one last play to seal the deal.
It came when sophomore forward KJ Adams caught a pass from Dajuan Harris Jr. and quickly attacked the rim down the right side of the lane, banking in a shot to put the Jayhawks up 62-60.
The original play out of the timeout was for Wilson in the post. But Iowa State took that away. From there, it was just play ball and find a way to make a play.
“It just kind of played out (that way),” Adams said after the win. “Coach knows that Juan’s going to make the right play. Coach trusts him. He made the right play and thankfully I made the shot.”
The game-winning basket gave Adams 15 points, marking the 10th consecutive game he scored in double figures. While his development as an offensive weapon at the 5 has been one of the stories of this Kansas basketball season, production like that has become rather matter-of-fact at this point.
“It’s not like he’s just starting this,” Dick said of Adams’ ability as a scorer. “We’ve seen it throughout the summer and every single practice, so it’s not like it’s a surprise to us. It’s just something we need him to do.”
Adams, Dick and Wilson combined to score 52 of KU’s 62 points on Saturday.
After grabbing the lead by two, KU still had two fouls to give before Iowa State was shooting free throws. Both sides were keenly aware of that. Self said KU’s coaches told the officials they were going to foul on purpose, but Bobby Pettiford either missed or didn’t foul convincingly enough and the Cyclones had to play through it. The Jayhawks caught the game’s final break, when Caleb Grill misfired from deep as the game clock ran out.
“Their defensive intent was really good, especially on that last possession,” Otzelberger said after the game. “They were able to make one more play to pull out the victory.”
The win, which pushed the Jayhawks to 6-0 in games decided by five points or fewer or overtime this season, moved KU into first place in the Big 12 and gave the hundreds of former coaches and players on hand reason to fully enjoy Saturday night’s reunion banquet.
“It was a great week,” Self said. “We can play better, but it was a great week. To win with so many guys back for the reunion will definitely make tonight a lot more pleasant and the dry chicken taste a little more moist. It was fun out there.”