KU routs Kansas State 90-68 on senior night

Kansas guard Dajuan Harris Jr. (3) pushes the ball up the court during the first half on Tuesday, March 5, 2024 at Allen Fieldhouse. Photo by Nick Krug

The Kansas men’s basketball team continued one of its longest-standing streaks Tuesday night and got some revenge along the way.

The Jayhawks have still won their final home game of the year every season dating back to 1983-84, and they sent out their seniors in style this time around by dominating rival Kansas State 90-68 at Allen Fieldhouse.

In both games against the Wildcats they went on sizable runs after halftime, but unlike in Manhattan in February they did not allow K-State to respond Tuesday, instead continuing to build their advantage throughout the second period.

“I saw how excited they were after they beat us,” center Hunter Dickinson said, “and I think that definitely kind of stuck with some of us, just how excited they were — usually people are excited to beat us because it’s a rare occasion, but especially for them. I think we felt a little motivated coming in tonight.”

One of the seniors playing his final game at Allen Fieldhouse, Kevin McCullar Jr., led the Jayhawks with 19 points in his second game back from injury. Another, Dickinson, who was honored Tuesday but still has a year of eligibility he may choose to use, had 15 points, 20 rebounds and five blocks. Neither was efficient from the field — they combined to go 10-for-30 — but managed enough raw production to get KU across.

“I feel like that’s something I’ve definitely improved on,” Dickinson said. “In previous years when my shot was falling it was hard for me to still kind of affect the game in other ways because I felt like I was really an offensive-minded player and kind of really just like heavily relied on that to kind of determine how I played.”

Nick Timberlake (season-best 18 points, 4-for-5 from deep) and KJ Adams (16 points) also had strong showings.

K-State star Tylor Perry was held to two points and did not make a field goal.

“Dajuan (Harris Jr.) did a great job fighting through ball screens,” McCullar said. “Hunter and KJ showed hard on ball screens. It was a collective effort. Every time somebody switched on him we all took it personal.”

Will McNair Jr. (17 points, 10 rebounds) led the way for the Wildcats.

“I think the ball-screen defense was good,” KU coach Bill Self said. “Now, they scored behind it some, but they didn’t score off the screens and that’s where they hurt us so much over at their place, I thought.”

Just one week after poor free-throw shooting helped lead to its undoing in a rare home loss to BYU, the Jayhawks were sharp at the line. They went 28-for-31 to K-State’s 10-for-21 — numbers that had been even more lopsided earlier in the first period, and that were especially crucial because KU inexplicably couldn’t make easy layups at the rim for most of the game.

“We missed probably 12 layups, if you make eight of those it’s a totally different situation,” Self said, “but I thought we actually got the ball exactly where we wanted to get it, and played well.”

A foul-laden, erratic start for both teams overshadowed the first career start for KU senior night honoree and walk-on Michael Jankovich. Jankovich exited the game after two early fouls, but even with the Jayhawks’ normal starting lineup restored, they fell behind 10-5 early thanks to a 3-pointer by Arthur Kaluma. The Creighton transfer had seven points and four rebounds by the first media timeout.

The Jayhawks settled down somewhat in the following minutes, scoring eight straight points, culminating in a steal in the backcourt by Dickinson that eventually led to a putback for the KU center.

KU missed an inexplicable 17 of its first 22 layup attempts, preventing it from building a particularly sizable lead. The Jayhawks got the margin to seven points twice, but Self called a timeout after a 3 by K-State freshman RJ Jones.

But with the Wildcats sputtering, the Jayhawks managed to maintain the lead and snapped a streak of four minutes without a field goal when Johnny Furphy attacked the paint and drove in for a layup to make it 30-22.

What ultimately made the difference for KU as the minutes ticked down in the first half was its free-throw shooting. Meanwhile, Elmarko Jackson and Timberlake hit pull-up jumpers to help KU keep its rival at arm’s length, and Dickinson blocked Jerrell Colbert at the buzzer to preserve a 41-33 lead entering halftime.

“It was terrible defense and Hunter made a great play,” Self said.

The Wildcats struggled to get much of anything going out of the break and scored just one point in the first four minutes, but KU kept blowing layups. However, 3-pointers by McCullar and Timberlake (twice) helped the Jayhawks briefly take their biggest lead at 17 points with 12:34 to go.

They pushed it to 22 after Adams finished an alley-oop from Harris and Dickinson drove for a slick layup.

With four minutes to go, Timberlake hit his fourth 3-pointer of the night, becoming the first Jayhawk to make more than three 3-pointers in a conference game this season.

Senior walk-on and former manager Patrick Cassidy scored on a goaltending call with 45.9 seconds remaining. Jankovich also made a free throw in his final game at Allen Fieldhouse.

The Jayhawks will travel to face No. 1 Houston Saturday at 3 p.m.

“We’ve had a good year but we haven’t had a special year,” Self said, adding that “it’s not like the sky is falling” just because KU fell out of the top 10 this week. “In order to have a great year or a special year we got to play good from this point forward.”

Box score

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