Taking a hit: Wilson’s big night squandered in 83-82 OT loss in Sunflower Showdown
Manhattan — Kansas forward Jalen Wilson’s first ever loss to Kansas State came on the best individual scoring night of his career.
And he nearly single-handedly led the 2nd-ranked Jayhawks to a wild and crazy road win over the No. 13 Wildcats on Tuesday night at Bramlage Coliseum.
Instead, after dropping in a career-high 38 points — a total believed to be the third most points ever scored by an individual player under Kansas coach Bill Self at KU — Wilson and the Jayhawks went home on the losing side of things for just the second time this season, 83-82 in overtime in the first of two Sunflower Showdown battles this season.
“It was good,” a disappointed Wilson said of his career night after the game. “But when you don’t win it kind of just takes all that away.”
Wilson is now 6-1 against the Wildcats during his KU career.
Said Self of KU’s leading scorer: “Jalen played great. Puts us on his back, has to drive it every time. He played great.”
He also had to do much of it alone, as three Kansas starters fouled out in the Jayhawks’ first conference loss, leaving Wilson and starting point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. on the floor to close out the game with Bobby Pettiford, Joe Yesufu and Zach Clemence.
“I really don’t know what you can say at game point like that to three guys who haven’t been out there before,” Self said. “They’ve just got to play.”
Wilson, who said earlier this week that he loves to play in environments like the one the Jayhawks battled in on Tuesday, noted that it was tough to try to steal the win with starters KJ Adams, Gradey Dick and Kevin McCullar Jr. watching from the bench.
Adams and McCullar fouled out in regulation. Dick fouled out with 1:31 to play in overtime.
“That’s basketball,” Wilson said. “Calls go different ways and no matter who’s out there we have to find a way to come out with the win and have success; can’t make any excuses about it.”
That Kansas (16-2 overall, 5-1 Big 12) even got to overtime was a testament to the night Wilson delivered.
Time and time again, he turned the corner, drove hard to the rim and either finished in traffic or earned a trip to the free throw line.
His two free throws in the final minute of OT put the Jayhawks up 82-80, and his deep 3-pointer from the top of the key with the shot clock winding down nearly put KU up by four late in overtime.
But Self called timeout before Wilson took the shot and the Jayhawks could not convert after the timeout.
“I called a timeout when Jalen makes a bomb,” Self said, expressing the same kind of regret in the decision after the loss as he temporarily showed on the court in real time. “That could’ve been the difference in winning and losing.”
Wilson shrugged it off.
“It was a good timeout,” he said. “That doesn’t mean anything as far as the game. We were still up. We still had the ball. It really didn’t do too much.”
It did, however, set up the Wildcats for what proved to be the game-winning play.
The fact that it came at Wilson’s expense on the defensive end of the floor was the perfect twist of the knife on a tough night for Kansas and its leader.
With more than enough time to run something all the way through, the Wildcats (16-2, 5-1) went quick, with senior guard Markquis Nowell (4 points, 7 assists and 4 steals in 42 minutes) throwing a lob over the top of the play to Keyontae Johnson (24 points, 8 rebounds) who was being guarded by Wilson.
Johnson finished the play with a dunk and the Jayhawks had one final shot to draw up a game-winner.
“It was a great call,” Self said of K-State’s game winner. “I can’t believe it was available. I’m really disappointed it was available. But they’ve done it before.”
Wilson took the blame for the defensive lapse, saying he played on top of Johnson — leaving the path to the rim open behind him — because he didn’t want to let him catch it clean in the post.
“That’s on me for letting him spin,” Wilson said.
Even after the big bucket by Johnson, the Jayhawks still had a chance.
However, just like at the end of regulation, when KU failed to get a shot with a chance to win it there, KU never got a shot at the end of OT either. Instead, Harris coughed up the ball while trying to make a play near the paint and the Wildcats dove on it as time expired.
“There’s a lot of things,” said Self, when asked after the game what he saw as the difference. “I thought K-State played great early and we didn’t have any answer for them. The first thing I want to say, though, is we don’t get a shot at the end of regulation and overtime. That’s on me. Didn’t get a shot.”
Tuesday’s game was the fifth Big 12 battle decided by four points or fewer in KU’s first six games on the conference schedule so far.
“We’ve won a lot of games like that,” Wilson said after the defeat. “I don’t know if it just caught up to us, playing teams close, but we’ve got to find a way to win games like that.”
Tuesday’s loss came with some perspective for the visiting team.
On a night when three KU starters fouled out and the Jayhawks shot 6-of-29 from 3-point range with 15 turnovers and still dug out of a 14-point hole early, the Jayhawks went to the wire with a chance to win against a team that almost certainly will be in the Top 10 in the country next week.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Self said. “I thought we fought hard. I thought we competed. We had a make-shift lineup out there. Had three guys who had never been out there at game point.”
Added Wilson: “Our conference is good. They’re a good team. And the great thing about basketball is we’ll have another game in two days, three days. We’ll get to see them again, and that’s the beauty of the Big 12, you get to learn from a lot of things and you have to move on quick.”