LAWRENCE, Kan. — Marcus Garrett has carved out a reputation at Kansas as one of the nation’s best defenders, the kind of consummate leader and team-first player just about every team with national title aspirations needs on its roster.
He wasn’t known as a particularly good 3-point shooter until Saturday.
Dared to shoot from beyond the arc by Oklahoma, the junior guard responded by knocking down a career-high six 3s to highlight a virtuoso performance. Garrett finished with a career-best 24 points, added seven assists, five rebounds and four steals, and led the third-ranked Jayhawks to an 87-70 rout that keeps them in the running for the Big 12 title.
“Coach has been saying for about two weeks now, when I’m open I have to take it,” Garrett said. “I don’t really care about how the defense is playing. I know what we’re trying to do offensively. I just took the shots that were there.”
His barrage opened up things for the rest of the Jayhawks.
“Obviously if Marcus makes six 3s we’ll be hard to deal with,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “That was probably the best offensive game he’s had since he’s been here.”
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Udoka Azubuike took advantage of newfound real estate in the paint to pile up 15 points and 17 rebounds. Devon Dotson found lanes the basket and scored 19 points. Ochai Agbaji took advantage of the sagging defense to score 10, all helping the Jayhawks (22-3, 11-1) win their 10th straight since falling to top-ranked Baylor in early January.
Kristian Doolittle had 27 points and 12 rebounds to lead Oklahoma (16-9, 6-6), but the senior forward needed 20 field-goal attempts to get there. Austin Reaves added 12 points, while leading scorer Brady Manek dealt with early foul trouble and was held to seven points and 1-for-6 shooting from the arc.
“They’ve had really good defensive teams. It’s not like they haven’t been good,” said Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger, whose team has lost 19 straight in the Phog. “But this team is really good. They’re really together. They react to each other well. They have lots of length at the rim. They’re a really good defensive team. Good in other areas too.”
As expected, the Sooners spent the first half slumping into the paint, trying to keep Azubuike and fellow big man David McCormack from getting easy looks at the rim. As a result, they backed off the 3-point line and dared Garrett – who shot just 29 percent there coming into the game – to begin hoisting up shots.
He finally did. And he made Oklahoma pay.
Garrett knocked down a trio of first-half 3-pointers, including one that capped a 17-5 surge over the final 8 minutes and gave Kansas a 41-32 lead at the break. That barrage forced Oklahoma to begin guarding the perimeter, and that opened for Dotson lanes to the basket, and the Jayhawks’ big men began working with their backs to the basket.
Garrett didn’t just do it with his shooting, either. One of the nation’s best defenders also had steals on back-to-back possessions late in the half, leading to easy run-outs and layups that crushed Oklahoma’s confidence.
“It was very critical,” Doolittle said. “It wasn’t the intensity we wanted.”
Kansas kept its momentum going with a 12-2 run to start the the second half, only for the Sooners to make their lone big run of the game. Manek finally got a couple of shots to drop, and McCormack and Tristan Enaruna committed offensive fouls on consecutive possessions for Kansas, allowing the Sooners to trim their deficit to 61-51 with 11 1/2 minutes left.
Dotson answered with a pair of layups, and Agbaji knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner in front of the Kansas bench a few minutes later, allowing the Jayhawks to stretch the lead and cruise to the finish.
“I thought we battled for a bit and then I thought we made a couple weak plays, they made a couple good plays to draw it out before the half,” Kruger said. “They’re good. They’re really good. Our guys battled in a lot of good ways and the big guy inside bothered us a bit. Garrett making 3s bothered us a bit.
“They’re just good.”
The Jayhawks were leading 76-60 when they had a run-out and the Sooners’ De’Vion Harmon knocked the ball out from behind. Referee Gerry Pollard incorrectly whistled that it went off Kansas, sending coach Bill Self sprinting down the court and bumping into him. Self was given a technical foul and Doolittle made one of two free throws.
Oklahoma was 8 of 24 from beyond the arc and beaten on the boards, and that’s never a recipe for success against the Jayhawks. The Sooners also allowed Kansas to pile up 14 second-chance points.
Kansas committed 10 turnovers, but most of those came in the final few minutes. They had just three at halftime, when the Jayhawks had built a cushion they would never relinquish. Dotson had five assists and Kansas had 17 as a team.
Oklahoma: hosts top-ranked Baylor on Monday night.
Kansas: concludes its homestand against Iowa State on Monday night.