The Kansas Jayhawks are familiar with close games in Big 12 play, with all but one of their league games decided by four or fewer points.
That trend continued on Saturday in Lawrence with the 14th-ranked Iowa State Cyclones in town, who, just like the Jayhawks, entered the weekend undefeated in Big 12 play at 4-0.
Only team could remain perfect though, and once again it was No. 2 Kansas coming out on top, surviving Iowa State to win 62-60 for its 10th win in a row.
“I thought we played great, I thought they played great,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Guys, that was a high-level game.”
Second-ranked KU controlled the majority of the first half, but with 11 seconds to go before halftime Iowa State’s freshman guard Demarion Watson hit a three pointer to give the Cyclones the lead. Kansas sophomore forward K.J. Adams responded on the subsequent possession with a buzzer-beating layup, setting the tone for the back-and-forth nature of the second half.
After the lead changed three times in the first half, it happened another 12 times in the second half.
“It’s fun to play in these big-time games because the conference is so hard,” Adams said. “You kind of go into these games thinking it’s going to be a last-possession game.”
That’s exactly what Saturday’s contest was, with with the two teams trading baskets in the final two minutes. After an Adams free throw to extend the Jayhawks’ lead to three points, Cyclones senior guard Gabe Kalscheur hit a three pointer to tie the game again.
Kansas took a timeout with 29.5 seconds to play and drew up a post-up play for senior forward Jalen Wilson. When the initial plan didn’t pan out, it was Adams taking over once again, hitting a shot off the backboard through contact with 11 seconds left. Iowa State senior guard Caleb Grill missed a contested three in the contest’s winning moments, sealing the KU victory.
“Their defensive intent was really good, especially good on that last possession,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said.
Adams finished with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the win, also grabbing six rebounds in the process.
He made multiple big plays late, but freshman guard Gradey Dick made numerous crucial shots for the Jayhawks throughout the game on his was to a game-high 21 points. That included a 5-of-9 effort from three-point range. The rest of the Jayhawks shot 1-of-15 from deep.
Dick knocked down two three pointers midway through the half to tie the contest. In fact, all five shots Dick made in the second half, including a free throw, either tied the game or gave Kansas the lead.
“He got off to a bad start today, but after he saw the first one go down I thought he did great,” Self said regarding Dick’s performance.
In a game in which every possession counted late, KU put its trust in its sharpshooting freshman.
“He somehow just finds a way to get open and get a shot up,” Wilson said about Dick. “We’re confident in him shooting any of those shots, and he hit some big ones today.”
Wilson was the third Jayhawk to score in double figures going 5-of-14 from the floor and 5-of-7 from the free throw line for 16 points on the day. He also grabbed 11 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season.
The trio of Adams, Dick and Wilson accounted for 52 of KU’s 62 points in the win. Senior guard Kevin McCullar tacked on eight more while the Jayhawks got just two points off the bench.
As a unit, though, Kansas was far more effective offensively this weekend than it was in a close win over the Oklahoma Sooners on Tuesday night. Kansas shot 45.8% from the floor in the win over Iowa State after shooting just 37.3% against OU.
KU now sits alone atop the Big 12 standings thanks to the win over Iowa State, which is now 4-1 in conference action. The 11th-ranked Kansas State Wildcats also lost this weekend, dropping them to 4-1 in the Big 12, too.
Even with as many close games as it’s had, including three that have been decided by one possession since the start of league play, Self said he’ll take the wins any way Kansas can get them.
“I would welcome anything that’s a win in this league,” Self said. “I don’t think we’re going into any game thinking, ‘This one’s going to be easy.’”
Next up for the Jayhawks is a meeting with the aforementioned Wildcats in Manhattan on Tuesday night for this year’s first Sunflower Showdown. Players, coaches and fans alike can already feel the anticipation for the midweek clash.
“It’s going to be a great environment, just as it always is,” Wilson said. “I know they just took a tough loss, so they’re definitely going to be amped to play.”
Tuesday’s game at Bramlage Coliseum is scheduled for a 6:00 tip off.
Click below to hear what Bill Self and the Jayhawks had to say after KU’s 62-60 win over the Iowa State Cyclones.