Cincinnati loss provides defining example of KU’s shooting woes

Kansas head coach Bill Self comes to check on Kansas forward K.J. Adams Jr. (24) while Adams gets off the floor slowly during the second half on Wednesday, March 13, 2024 at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Mo. Photo by Nick Krug

Kansas City, Mo. — The evening of Nov. 10 feels long enough ago on its own, but the Kansas men’s basketball team’s performance that night against Manhattan almost feels like it took place in another lifetime.

KU shot 10-for-26 from deep for a solid, though not necessarily spectacular, 38.5%, as freshman guard Johnny Furphy connected on three 3s and scored in double figures for the first time as a Jayhawk, and KU blew out the Jaspers 99-61.

Four months removed from that performance, KU coach Bill Self said Wednesday night that his team hasn’t shot the ball well from beyond the arc since that specific game.

His perception may have been colored a bit by what he had just seen in KU’s loss to Cincinnati: a 3-for-20 3-point shooting performance, one substantially improved by a last-minute make from walk-on former manager Patrick Cassidy, and somehow the sixth time in their last 10 games that the Jayhawks have made exactly three 3-pointers. (A team that made three 3s per game would be worst in the NCAA.)

But Self’s take holds water. KU has not made double-digit 3s in a game, indeed, since it played Manhattan. It has shot greater than 38.5% from deep in just seven of 30 games since, usually in relatively low-volume efforts like a 6-for-14 (42.8%) showing when it previously played Cincinnati in January.

“But what we have done is run really good offense and score a lot of 2s, a lot,” Self said. “Probably as efficient as anybody in America inside the arc.”

Indeed, the Jayhawks make more than half of their 2-point shots thanks to players like KJ Adams (60.6% on such shots) and Hunter Dickinson (58.3%).

“But, you know, the bottom line is we need to be able to make six or seven 3s,” Self said; those numbers would put them between 219th and 307th in the nation. “When you get outscored (by) 15 to 30 points every game from beyond the arc, that’s a lot of 2s and you don’t have enough opportunities to make those up.”

Cincinnati didn’t even shoot particularly well, but its 9-for-26 clip was substantially better than KU’s, and it made four of those 3s after KU had embarked on its ill-fated run that briefly cut the Bearcats’ lead down to two points.

Self attributed the shooting struggles in part to a slump for Furphy, who after bursting onto the scene and helping the offense space the floor in January is now 8-for-38 from deep in his last 10 games.

“It’s been an adjustment for sure, but it’s a learning process,” Furphy told the Journal-World postgame Wednesday. “Each game I’m learning new things as more teams (are) starting to try to take more things away from my game.”

He added that in advance of the tournament he’s going to work on “just trying to get open before, try to anticipate my shots a bit earlier, try not to react to offense, just try to open up more space and make it easier for myself.”

Self also mentioned the need for more from Nick Timberlake and Dajuan Harris Jr. (“Nick shot it well on senior night … and Juan has to be able to make one out of two or one out of three”) and the continued lack of Kevin McCullar Jr., who has been hampered by a bone bruise to his knee.

“When we do have our full complement of guys and you put Kevin out there,” Self said, “we’ve got enough threats that we can stretch the defense and run good offense.”

Even McCullar, though, has seen his 3-point percentage drop from 36.8% through mid-January to 26.8% as he’s dealt with the bruise.

With the Kansas State game on senior night — the one in which Timberlake hit four 3s, the first time a KU player had done that in conference play — as a considerable outlier, the Jayhawks have seemingly entered a teamwide shooting slump that coincides with the lead-up to the most important games of their season. Self said that “guys are aiming the ball instead of shooting it.”

“We had four starters combine 8-for-39 tonight (from the field),” Self said, with Adams (9-for-14, 22 points) the one excluded. “It’s like they’re shooting at the fair, you know, where the balls can’t actually fit through the goals. So we got to start shooting at a bigger basket and, you know, we got about seven to eight days that we can get some of that back.”

With the loss consigning them to an atypically early Big 12 Conference tournament exit, the Jayhawks will await news of their NCAA Tournament draw on Sunday.

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.

Kansas guard Nicolas Timberlake (25) puts up a three against Yale guard John Poulakidas (4) during the second half on Friday, Dec. 22, 2023 at Allen Fieldhouse. Photo by Nick Krug

Kansas guard Dajuan Harris Jr. shoots the ball against Texas Tech during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Feb. 12, 2024, in Lubbock, Texas.

photo by: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Kansas guard Kevin McCullar Jr. shoots during the first half of an exhibition NCAA college basketball game against Fort Hays State Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023, in Lawrence.


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