LAWRENCE, Kan. — Kansas and TCU waged such an epic offensive struggle Thursday night that the best shooter might have been Jayhawks center David McCormack, who swished his first 3-point try of the season during their decisive second-half run.
“He doesn’t even shoot those in practice,” teammate Ochai Agbaji said with a grin.
It helped McCormack finish with 15 points, and Agbaji added 13, as the Jayhawks overcame a sluggish first half to beat the turnover-prone Horned Frogs 59-51. Dajuan Harris and Tyon Grant-Foster also provided a big boost off the bench as Kansas avoided a fourth straight loss for the first time since the 1988-89 season.
“We actually played with more energy,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “We saw the ball not go in the hole, but we saw some guys make some big baskets for us, and David made the biggest one. But we did some better things the second half.”
Mike Miles hit five 3-pointers and had 18 points to lead the Horned Frogs, who turned the ball over 22 times and shot just 35% from the field. RJ Nembhard added 12 points, well below his season average of 17.2 per game.
“What it showed,” Self said, “is you can defend and play like crap and still be in the game.”
Because of COVID-19 problems, the Horned Frogs were playing for the first time since losing at Oklahoma on Jan. 12. They had a trio of games postponed, first because of issues with West Virginia, then because of an outbreak of their own.
Among those that tested positive was TCU coach Jamie Dixon, who said earlier this week that he was “questionable” to make the trip to Lawrence. But the recent diagnosis didn’t stop Dixon from spending the entire game with his mask around his chin rather than over his mouth, whether he was in the huddle or yelling at officials on the court.
“We’re not practicing,” Dixon said. “Nobody really talked about it, but we’ve had seven work stoppages. So there’s obviously been some challenges where we’re not where we need to be for a variety of reasons and a variety of area. But no one cares and so we’ve got to get better because of it. I’m encouraged by what we did here.”
The Jayhawks had reason to be rusty, too. They had only played once in the last 10 days, and their last game inside Allen Fieldhouse – with its socially-distanced crowd of about 2,000 fans – was Jan. 9 against Oklahoma.
So it wasn’t much of a surprise when TCU led 19-18 at halftime in a game every bit as ugly as the score.
There was one stretch covering more than seven minutes in which the Horned Frogs had nearly as many turnovers (five) as field-goal attempts (seven) and never scored. When they did get a bucket to go, it was in the midst of an eight-minute stretch in which Kansas went 1 for 13 from the floor, turned it over three times and even botched an open layup.
Junior high games have produced more efficient offense.
Self tweaked his lineup to start the second half, putting seldom-used Harris and Grant-Foster on the floor. And they made an immediate impact. Foster attacked the rim to draw fouls while Harris scored five quick points, once following his own layup with a steal on the inbound and a foul – he made one of the two free throws.
On the other end, TCU had already hit the 20-turnover mark midway through the second half.
Kansas still couldn’t shake free until Grant-Foster caught a missed 3-pointer by Christian Braun and scooped under for a layup that made it 47-43 with 5 minutes to go. McCormack followed with his clutch 3-pointer, Agbaji and Garrett added dunks, and the lead swelled to an insurmountable 54-44 with three minutes to go.
“I knew it was late in the shot clock,” McCormack said. “I felt like I was in a groove and took the shot with confidence. It was very satisfying. I told them once it left my hand, I knew I had the confidence it was going in.”
TCU did some good things, out-rebounding the Jayhawks and seemingly winning every 50-50 ball. But turnovers proved to be too much to overcome, especially in the second half, when Kansas was putting the game out of reach.
Kansas won despite going 4 of 17 from beyond the arc and 9 of 16 from the foul line. The Jayhawks got little production from their starting backcourt, though. Braun, Marcus Garrett and Jalen Wilson combined to go 4 of 16 from the field.
Kansas visits No. 18 Tennessee while TCU travels to No. 12 Missouri for the SEC-Big 12 Challenge on Saturday.