KU showed something approaching its peak offense at Oklahoma State

photo by: AP Photo/Mitch Alcala

Kansas guard Dajuan Harris Jr. (3) drives past Oklahoma State guard John-Michael Wright (51) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024, in Stillwater, Okla.

Stillwater, Okla. — All season, the Kansas men’s basketball team has been hoping that point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. will shoot more on offense and that a solid fifth option will emerge in the starting lineup.

Both came to fruition at once Tuesday night at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Harris took his fair share of chances, both in the halfcourt and in transition, and finished with 11 points on an efficient 4-for-6 shooting. Meanwhile, freshman Johnny Furphy started and played his best all-around collegiate game — rebounding, blocking shots and generally holding up better against opposing guards — all while he scored 15 of his own on the offensive end.

Together with typically excellent performances from fellow starters KJ Adams, Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCullar Jr. — without McCullar even relying on his usual free-throw barrage — that meant that KU had all five starters score in double figures for the first time all season on its way to a 90-66 victory over Oklahoma State.

“When we’re playing like that and we’re scoring 90 points, we’re really hard to beat,” said Dickinson, who sank hook shots from nearly every conceivable angle in the post Tuesday and finished with a game-high 21 points.

He continued, laying it out player by player: “Teams are kind of sticking to me with their big man, so that leaves some gaps for Juan. Obviously Kev’s going to get his, just because that’s the player he is, he’s so talented, and then KJ, he’s feasting down there. I think they try to come with some help and some double teams on me, and so that just opens up for our best athlete to go and make spectacular plays.”

He reserved high praise for his newest teammate Furphy, whom he compared to the Orlando Magic’s Franz Wagner (and “not just because he’s foreign”), while adding that “He can be really good for us now, and then obviously his best years of basketball are definitely ahead of him, for sure.”

Furphy has taken evident strides in recent games, particularly since entering the starting lineup against Oklahoma Saturday. He’s done a better job of using his 6-foot-9 frame to block shots and grab rebounds, as on the play that set up Nick Timberlake’s highlight-reel dunk Tuesday.

“Even though people try to take advantage of him in some ways, his length defensively gives people problems,” Self said.

Plus, Self also noted, “Guys like playing with him too. Guys like playing with him and he’s really bright.”

“I think the four vets are just looking for him to go out there and play his game. He’s all around the floor today, obviously with his scoring, but then you look and see he’s got seven rebounds,” Dickinson said. “That’s what we look for (from) him. We think he’s one of the best rebounders on the team, and so he adds that aspect as well.”

On the offensive side, Furphy has gotten to show off his previously dormant abilities as an above-the-rim player in transition, even on a team that by virtue of its composition has forced him into something of a shooter role. 

That’s a valuable role, granted, that compels defenses to space out more rather than clogging the paint to block Dickinson. Furphy went 3-for-4 from deep Tuesday as the rest of the team combined to go 2-for-9 — a bit of a blemish on the nearly ideal offensive night.

Also helping with spacing, though, is a slight shift in KJ Adams’ game, as the forward has begun to show off the jump shot he trained in the offseason. He hit two Tuesday, and he still has his solid floater to fall back on as well.

McCullar sought to take a much-discussed step forward of his own after returning to KU, in the mold of Ochai Agbaji and Jalen Wilson, in the offseason and has been consistent so far this year. He’s honed his own outside shot — he’s shooting 36% from beyond the arc after 30% last season — while becoming increasingly comfortable attacking the rim whenever the slightest opportunity presents itself; he’s attempted 111 free throws already after 117 all last year.

And then there’s Harris. In an oft-cited stat, the Jayhawks have now won 30 of 31 games during his career when the pass-first point guard tallies at least 10 points (the one loss was last year in the NCAA Tournament, with Self unable to coach due to a health issue). Against Kentucky in November, he saved KU with his 3-point shooting, but he’s just as effective shooting off-balance acrobatic layups at the rim that even his intrepid teammates shy away from — and certainly he himself isn’t always keen on attempting either. One such shot came in the final minute against TCU on Jan. 6 and helped save that game for KU.

All facets of the starting lineup came together on Tuesday and the ultimate result was one of KU’s best showings all season — even if it happened against one of the bottom teams in the conference. Even without much production from the 3-point line outside of Furphy, the Jayhawks drew out a 24-point margin, shooting 62% all the while, and never let OSU make it close.

“I thought that was about as complete as we’ve been away from home in a while, for sure,” Self said.

photo by: AP Photo/Mitch Alcala

Kansas forward K.J. Adams Jr. (24) shoots around Oklahoma State center Brandon Garrison (23) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024, in Stillwater, Okla.

photo by: AP Photo/Mitch Alcala

Kansas guard Kevin McCullar Jr. (15) shoots over Oklahoma State center Brandon Garrison (23) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024, in Stillwater, Okla.

photo by: AP Photo/Mitch Alcala

Kansas guard Johnny Furphy (10) shoots the ball in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma State, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024, in Stillwater, Okla.

photo by: AP Photo/Mitch Alcala

Kansas center Hunter Dickinson (1) shoots over Oklahoma State center Mike Marsh (32) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024, in Stillwater, Okla.

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