The Kansas Jayhawks are playing with their backs against the wall the rest of the way this season, needing to win out and get help in order to have a shot at a 15th-straight Big 12 title. They took care of their part of the equation on Saturday, holding off the Oklahoma State Cowboys on the road 72-67.
Games in Stillwater have gone poorly for the Jayhawks in recent memory; entering this weekend, KU had lost four of its last five games at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“For whatever reason my teams always struggle here, and today was no exception, but it wasn’t because we played poorly, it was because Oklahoma State played well,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
In Saturday’s first half the Cowboys put the pressure on the Jayhawks again, going to the break with a seven-point edge.
OSU executed the blueprint for beating KU to perfection in the first half: shoot the lights out. The Cowboys went 7-of-14 from three-point range in the opening 20 minutes.
KU’s offense, meanwhile, sputtered in the first half. Kansas shot made just 11-of-33 shots from the floor, including just 3-of-12 from long range. Two of those were knocked down by freshman guard Quentin Grimes, who had one of his best halves of the year, going into the locker room with 10 points.
While the second half started out slowly as well for the Jayhawks on offense, Grimes was able to help spur an 11-0 run to put KU back on top. Kansas wasn’t able to completely pull away, though, with Oklahoma State continuing its strong shooting effort.
That shooting touch was able to get the Cowboys up by as many as five in the last going, but a few timely threes by Grimes and fellow freshman guards Ochai Agbaji and Devon Dotson kept the Jayhawks afloat.
Grimes’ biggest shot game with Kansas trailing by three, 67-64, tying the game from the right wing. He’d hit a free throw one possession later to give KU a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
He finished the game with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting with four rebounds and three assists.
“I’m just worrying about what I can control,” Grimes said. “And [his teammates and coaches] have a lot of faith in me on the offensive end, they know what I can do.”
Junior forward Dedric Lawson led all scorers with 20 points in his 18th double-double of the season, all grabbing 15 rebounds. His 20-point performance included a 9-of-9 effort from the free throw line, several which iced the game down the stretch.
Agbaji was KU’s third double-digit scorer in the victory, scoring 11 points with all three of his field goals coming from beyond the arc.
Oklahoma State had a chance to tie the game on its last meaningful possession, bringing the ball up with 14.2 seconds to play after a pair of Lawson free throws. Defensive miscommunication left OSU’s Lindy Waters, the Big 12 leader in three-point percentage, wide open in the right corner, however he missed the shot to effectively end the game.
“I was praying he didn’t make it, and I guess God listened to me,” Grimes said.
Waters wasn’t able to play for a large portion of the game due to injury; he six points on just six shots. Curtis Jones was the leading scorer for the Cowboys, pouring in 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Included in that total was a 4-of-4 effort from three, with several contested shots going in.
“[Jones] was out of this world,” Self said.
With the win the Jayhawks are now 3-7 in true road games this year, with the final one coming up in Norman, Oklahoma on Tuesday night against the Oklahoma Sooners.
As for the help portion of KU’s league title dreams, Kansas State and Texas Tech both play on Saturday night, facing Baylor at home and TCU on the road, respectively. Kansas needs each of those two teams to lose once more in order to have a shot at a share of the conference title.