Kansas’ biggest weapon down the stretch Wednesday night against No. 14 Oklahoma State should have been freshman Ben McLemore, a blossoming star who showed earlier in the season against Iowa State that he can take a big shot in the clutch.
But it wasn’t McLemore this time. In fact, McLemore took just three shots in the final 14+ minutes of regulation and two overtimes in the Jayhawks’ 68-67 win on the road in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday. He did not look confident with the ball on a number of possessions and the ball went elsewhere as a result. The question is, was that for the better?
Without McLemore as a go-to option, Naadir Tharpe took four shots in the overtime periods and only hit one. That one, though, was the most important. It was Kansas’ only field goal of the two five-minute extra periods and proved to be the game-winner with 0:20 to play in the second OT.
By the box score standard, Tharpe did not have a good night. He was 2-of-11 from the floor and 0-of-6 from three-point range with four turnovers. But with McLemore not stepping up and fellow guard Elijah Johnson fouling out with 2:34 to play in the first overtime, Tharpe needed to control the ball.
Even on the final possession where Tharpe ultimately hit the game-winner, McLemore fumbled the ball on the wing before handing it off to him.
And that brings up and important point.
McLemore did not assert himself after struggling for most of the night and finished with seven points on 3-of-12 FG. It was only the third time all season that he had failed to score in double figures and the other two times came in early season non-conference blowouts. He has proven that he can be clutch. Feel free to look back at his game against Iowa State at Allen Fieldhouse for proof of that.
But the real key will be, on nights when his shot is not falling, can he affect the game in other ways and have the confidence to be an option like Tharpe or Releford was on the final possession? He is young. It should come with time. We know that he can be that clear No. 1 option when he is hot, but it is the nights when he is not that will matter. In the mean time, he is still a sensational talent and a key to Kansas’ Final Four hopes this season.