The Kansas Jayhawks have now seen each of their first two Big 12 games this season go right down to the wire.
First, at home on Dec. 31, they held off the Oklahoma State Cowboys 69-67 after a 15-point comeback.
It was more of the same on Tuesday in Lubbock, Texas in regard to late drama, but this time it was their opponents, the Texas Tech Red Raiders, who found a late burst to close the gap.
Kansas wouldn’t be denied in senior guard Kevin McCullar’s return to the United Supermarkets Arena, though, hanging on to beat Texas Tech 75-72 and to improve to 2-0 in conference play.
“We don’t have much left,” Kansas coach Bill Self said after the game. “OT probably wouldn’t have been a good thing for us today.”
McCullar’s was the biggest storyline entering the game. He played for the Red Raiders for three seasons (plus a redshirt year in 2018-19) before joining the Jayhawks via transfer this offseason. It was a fairly quiet night for McCullar, though, who scored seven points on 3-of-9 shooting, although he did have a late jumper to extend KU’s lead from one point to three.
“If it messed with him, he’s had 10 months to prepare for that because he knew that was coming,” Self said. “But I think that Kevin played pretty well.”
Once the game started, the story became a different pair of Jayhawks, senior forward Jalen Wilson and junior guard Dajuan Harris.
The latter had a career game offensively, pouring in a team-high 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including a perfect 5-of-5 from three-point range. That sets a new high for Harris in three pointers made in a game, tied his personal high in threes attempted and it’s just the fourth time in his career he’s made multiple threes without a miss.
“The way teams are going to play him, at least up until this point, they’re going to dare him to beat them. And tonight, he did,” Self said.
Wilson was at his best in the first half, scoring 13 of his 16 points before the break. In fact, KU was at its best in the first half all the way around. The Jayhawks shot 56.3% from the floor in the opening 20 minutes and led by seven points at halftime. Plus, they did that without attempting a free throw in the first half.
“Any time you score 75 on the road is usually a good thing, especially when you’re playing against a team that guards like Tech,” Self said. “We played about as well offensively as we good in the first half after the 16-minute timeout.”
The Red Raiders were the superior offensive team in the second half, led by senior forward Kevin Obanor. They shot 52.2% in the second half and Obanor had 16 of his game-high 26 points after the break.
Just like the aforementioned win over Oklahoma State, however, Kansas sealed the win thanks to its defense.
In a one-point game with just nine seconds to play, Texas Tech freshman guard Pop Isaacs slipped and lost the ball. McCullar stole it away and launched it down the court to sophomore forward K.J. Adams, who dunked it in transition for the game’s final basket. Tech didn’t get a clean shot off at the end of the game with a chance to tie.
Adams finished with 14 points for the second straight game, making that seven games in a row he’s reached double figures.
The Jayhawks, who are up to No. 3 in this week’s AP Top 25 basketball poll, will be on the road again their next time out in a matchup with the West Virginia Mountaineers. That game will tip at 5:00 p.m. central time on Saturday, Jan. 7.