The Kansas Jayhawks are experiencing a youth movement, starting four freshmen on Saturday for the first time since Dec. 10, 2013. Led by guards Ochai Agbaji and Devon Dotson, Kansas was able to push through their collective inexperience and hold off Oklahoma State 84-72.
With senior guard Lagerald Vick taking a leave of absence from the program and sophomore guard Marcus Garrett still nursing a high ankle sprain, the Jayhawks have needed other players to step up and make plays while the program is shorthanded. In this weekend’s case, it was the young players and junior forward Mitch Lightfoot who made the biggest impact.
Following a loss to Kansas State on Tuesday and the Vick news later in the week, morale around the KU program has been low as of late. The Jayhawks entered the weekend a game and a half back in the Big 12 standings, but Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton asserted that Kansas is still a dangerous team.
“I know people around here have probably been freaking out because [Kansas has] lost four games in the league,” Boynton said before referencing the team’s talent and coach Bill Self’s hall of fame status. “Hats off to Kansas for finding their way after a tough loss on Tuesday.”
Oklahoma State, severely shorthanded in its own right this season, hung tough throughout the contest, and drew even with KU at 36 apiece heading into halftime. They were able to accomplish that without shooting the three at a high clip, something most opponents need at Allen Fieldhouse. OSU shot just seven threes in the first half, finishing 45 percent from deep but on just 20 total attempts.
Agbaji was the offensive leader for Kansas all day, finishing with 23 points and contributing in all facets on the offensive end, going 3-of-5 on two-point shots while shooting a white-hot 5-of-7 from long range. He paired all of that with six rebounds and a pair of assists, while also playing solid defense.
“He’s had some really good games shooting the ball beyond the arc,” Self said about Agbaji after the freshman’s 10th career game. “I have as much confidence with him shooting it as anybody.”
This was the second 20-point game for Agbaji in his last four. Self added that while he thought Agbaji would become one of the Jayhawks’ five best players at some point after taking off his redshirt, it became apparent almost immediately.
“It just goes to show you what a bad decision I made initially in misreading the situation,” Self said.
Dotson wasn’t as efficient from three-point range as Agbaji but still made his presence felt on both ends. The Charlotte, North Carolina product finished with 18 points, five rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals, both of which he turned into points in transition.
All in all, the four freshmen who played for KU (Agbaji, Dotson, Quentin Grimes and forward David McCormack) combined to score 47 points on 50 percent shooting.
Lightfoot’s scoring presence wasn’t as pronounced, but all in all he put together one of the best games of his career on Saturday. He scored six points and had game highs in rebounds and blocks with nine and two, respectively.
“It’s all about taking your opportunities and making the best of them,” Lightfoot said. “You’ve got to rise to the occasion.”
Self emphasized how important Lightfoot’s energy was off the bench and how much KU needed the spark he provided.
“He brought energy today. He hasn’t had a lot of things go his way as of late but he keeps grinding,” Self said. “I don’t think he was the best player in the game but he was the most important player in the game.”
Boynton gave Lightfoot a heavy amount of praise following the game, calling his performance “great.”
“There’s been a lot of guys like Mitch Lightfoot who have been here and helped them hang those banners,” Boynton said.
While the youth group and Lightfoot making splash plays, a game-high 25-point performance from junior forward Dedric Lawson was almost a quiet day for the potential All-American. His best moments came down the stretch, scoring seven straight points to push a 12-point lead to a 19-point advantage for the Jayhawks with five minutes to play. His three-point shooting stroke was on display again, as he knocked down 3-of-6 attempts from behind the arc. He’s now made a three in six straight games.
Overall, Kansas went 11-of-29 from three in the win.
The Allen Fieldhouse crowd wasn’t as loud as it always is for Saturday’s 11 a.m. tip, at least not until Kansas got hot midway through the second half and broke out to a double-digit lead.
“It was definitely a great atmosphere, I’ve never experienced something like this,” OSU guard Isaac Likekele said. “Playing somewhere like here can’t be simulated.”
Cam McGriff led the Cowboys in scoring with 22 points before fouling out.
Kansas has a quick turnaround this week, as the Jayhawks will head south to take on the TCU Horned Frogs Monday night. KU won the first meeting between the two teams this year 77-68 back on Jan. 9.