The Kansas Jayhawks entered Thursday’s contest against the Harvard Crimson as heavy favorites, but their visiting Ivy League foes didn’t play like 21.5-point underdogs at Allen Fieldhouse.
In fact, despite entering the game with the 329th-ranked offense in the country according to Stats Perform, the Crimson had a more efficient day shooting the ball than Indiana did in its loss to Kansas last weekend.
After a surprisingly competitive battle, KU did just enough to outlast Harvard, pulling away late to secure a 68-54 victory.
The win brings the Jayhawks’ record to 11-1 through the conclusion of the main nonconference schedule, the second year in a row they’ve started with that record.
It was also the final game for KU prior to the Christmas break, something that wasn’t lost on Jayhawks coach Bill Self, who said their may be something to teams struggling before the holiday layoff even if it’s not a true curse.
“I don’t know if it’s real, but it’s been real for several teams in America and it’s been real for us several times going into Christmas break,” Self said to ESPN’s Mark Neeley and Fran Fraschilla.
Harvard challenged Kansas from the jump, scoring on the first possession of the game and holding the lead off and on for nearly eight and a half minutes in the first half. The Jayhawks did surge back late in the opening period, though, putting together a 16-3 run to close out the half, including a buzzer-beating three pointer from freshman guard Gradey Dick.
The Crimson stole momentum back to open the second half, going on an 8-2 run of their own in the first three minutes after the break, completing a preview of the back-and-forth nature of the rest of the game.
KU’s best player took control of the game after Harvard cut the deficit to just four points with 12:32 left in the game. Junior forward Jalen Wilson scored 13 of the Jayhawks’ final 28 points and seven of their final 11.
“J-Will played really well the last six or seven minutes,” Self said.
Wilson finished with a game-high 21 points on 10-of-17 shooting and 1-of-6 from three-point range. In terms of shooting percentage, that’s more than a 21 percentage point increase over his performance against Indiana.
Self spoke highly of Wilson’s performance even though he also indicated he’s seen better efforts from KU’s leading scorer.
“He’s earned the right to be a go-to guy,” Self said. “He’s had a terrific year, he’s carried us. Tonight’s the worst he’s looked and he ended up with 21.”
Wilson was one of four Jayhawks to finish in double figures in scoring, also including Dick with 11 points, senior guard Kevin McCullar with 14 and sophomore forward K.J. Adams with 10.
McCullar also hauled in 11 rebounds for the second game in a row, giving him back to back double-doubles and three for the year.
As a team, the Jayhawks shot 46.7% from the field and just 20% from three. The Crimson hit 39.6% of their field goals and 31.8% of their three-point attempts.
Kansas won’t play a game for the next eight days before starting Big 12 play at home against the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Dec. 31. That game is scheduled for a 1:00 p.m. tip.