The Kansas Jayhawks struggled mightily to develop any sort of offense for most of their game against the Oklahoma Sooners on Tuesday night.
Through the first 35 minutes of the contest, KU shot just 32.7% from the floor and merely 32.5% on two-point shots. At that mark, shortly after a layup by Oklahoma senior center Tanner Groves, Kansas trailed by 10 points and hadn’t made a field goal in 12:52 of game time.
It was at that moment that the No. 2-ranked team in the country finally started to play like it.
The Jayhawks erupted in the final five minutes of game time, cobbling together an 18-4 run thanks to a rare hot shooting streak and a smothering defensive effort that held the Sooners to just one made field goal in their final eight attempts.
When the dust finally settled, it was the Jayhawks on top with a 79-75 victory.
“They controlled the tempo, they played smart, for the most part they took care of the ball,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “That’s about as poor as we’ve played in a long time … [We] just sort of found a way.”
The game-winning run started with a dunk by sophomore forward K.J. Adams, who’s become a major offensive threat for the Jayhawks in recent weeks and was their best option on that end Tuesday night. He poured in a career-high 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting and 6-of-7 at the free throw line against the Sooners.
Adams has now scored in double figures nine games in a row, and during that stretch he’s shooting 66.2% from the floor and 79.3% on free throws.
“I feel like I can miss a couple shots and no one will lose confidence in me, and that really did a lot for me tonight,” Adams said.
He wasn’t the only player who was busy at the free throw line in the win against Oklahoma. Kansas attempted 39 free throws in the win, 31 of which came in the second half. Factoring in OU’s attempts, there were 48 foul shots in the second half.
Self said that getting to the free throw line was imperative for the Jayhawks given how much they were struggling to shoot throughout the half.
“We ran such bad offense, our only way to score was to drive it,” Self said.
Sooners coach Porter Moser said the constant free throws, the result of 28 foul calls, threw Oklahoma out of its rhythm. OU players concurred after the game.
When asked about the number of free throws, Oklahoma senior guard Grant Sherfield said “I’m just at a loss for words.”
Four of the Jayhawks’ five starts scored during the 18-4 run, including three points from senior guard Kevin McCullar on an otherwise quiet night from the Texas Tech transfer. He gave Kansas the lead thanks to an and-one layup with 42 seconds left.
That play was emblematic of how McCullar has come up big in important moments lately, such as in KU’s win over Texas Tech a week ago, despite not playing well overall. It’s also part of the confidence that senior forward Jalen Wilson has talked about this Jayhawks team having throughout the year.
“We always find a way to stay composed no matter what’s going on,” Wilson said.
Wilson struggled shooting again, going just 3-of-12 from the floor, but he still finished with 17 points, including an important three pointer near the start of the game-ending run. Two other Jayhawks scored in double figures against the Sooners, including 11 points from junior guard Dajuan Harris and 10 off the bench for sophomore forward Zach Clemence.
“Those 10 points were really important for us ,” Self said.
Clemence played well in two games last season between Kansas and Oklahoma, which Self said was a reason why he was the first forward to come off the bench on Tuesday.
Tight games have become a staple of this head-to-head matchup. Last year’s meetings between the Jayhawks and Sooners were close, too, including a two-point home win for KU.
“They’ve got great coaching, great players and guys that know how to play basketball,” Wilson said. “They just make you have to make tough shots.”
The loss was a tough one to swallow for Oklahoma, which is now 1-3 in Big 12 play with all three losses coming by eight points combined.
“I just felt like we kind of let each other down,” Sherfield said. “Last two minutes, we just gave up so many transition baskets.”
Sherfield, a Wichita native and former Wichita State Shocker, led all scorers with 25 points in the losing effort.
Kansas finished the game shooting 37.3% from the field, 36.4% from three-point range and 79.5% at the free throw line. Oklahoma was dominant close to the basket, shooting 62.5% on twos, but it struggled mightily from three, shooting just 11.8% (2-of-17) from beyond the arc.
The Jayhawks have now won nine games in a row and they’re 4-0 in conference play. Thanks to the win, they kept pace with Kansas State and Iowa State in the Big 12 standings.
Self called the Big 12 “a monster” on Tuesday.
“Stealing one today was big for us,” Self said.
Kansas will play one of its co-leaders on Saturday in its next game with the Iowa State Cyclones visiting Allen Fieldhouse. That game is scheduled for a 3:00 p.m. central time tip off.
Click below to hear what Bill Self and the Jayhawks had to say after KU’s 79-75 win over the Oklahoma Sooners.