Phog Allen Fieldhouse was rocking with full force Saturday afternoon with the #9 ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys (15-3, 3-2) in the house to take on the #15 ranked Kansas Jayhawks (13-4, 4-0).
The two Big-12 teams traded punches for the first 9 minutes of the first half, Kansas holding a 16-15 lead before springing out to a 13-0 run over a 3+ minute span. The Jayhawks continued to stiff arm the Cowboys off throughout the remainder of the first half, taking a 47-30 lead into the half.
The Jayhawks achieved this lead as an entire unit, receiving contributions from every player that touched the floor. Naadir Tharpe posted 9 points and 3 assists in the first half. Wayne Selden added 7 points an 3 assists. 5 bench players made it into the game in the first half for Kansas and gave the Jayhawks 20 points off the bench.
Fourteen second half turnovers crippled the Jayhawks in the second half and allowed Oklahoma State to scrape their way back into the game. Cowboy Guard Phil Forte was unconscious from outside the arc, burying seven of his ten three-point attempts and finishing the contest with 23 points. Four other Oklahoma State players reach double-digits as well (Smart-16, Brown-15, Murphy-12, Nash-10). Oklahoma State Guard Marcus Smart, who forwent the draft last year to return to Stillwater for his Sophomore season, found his first made field goal attempt of the game at the 6 minute mark of the second half. Despite his lack of converted field goals, Smart still found himself flirting with a triple-double by the end of the contest. Smart finished the game with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists.
Kansas Freshman Center Joel Embiid was also on triple-double alert in the Jayhawks 80-78 win, coming alive in the second half, scoring 11 points and blocking 5 shots. Embiid finished the game with 13 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 blocked shots. Naadir Tharpe helped Joel Embiid take control of the second half for Kansas, scoring 12 of his team-high 21 points and finishing the game with 6 assists. Andrew Wiggins was nonexistent in Saturday’s game, spending most of the second half on the bench and finishing with only 3 points on 1-5 shooting from the field. Senior Transfer Tarik Black and Sophomore Jamari Traylor both had nice performances coming off the bench for Kansas. Traylor scored 9 points on 3-3 shooting from the field while adding 3 rebounds, an assist, and a block. Black scored 8 points on 4-5 shooting and added 2 rebounds and a block.
Two clutch hands plays by Freshman G Frank Mason was the ultimate difference in the game. In the final minute of the contest, with Oklahoma State nipping at Kansas’ heals, Mason stripped a Cowboy’s layup attempt, as well as LeBryan Nash’s game winning three-point attempt as the clock expired. Kansas was able to hold on after a poor second half to defeat Oklahoma State 80-78.
Kansas is a team that has transformed right in front of our eyes as the season has gone on. The players are slowly but surely growing up, learning the culture of Kansas basketball, and understanding that we are a traditional winning program. Bill Self is an amazing coach who has helped these young men mature and grow both on and off the court. This team, who had massive troubles with a zone defense in the beginning of the year, now dictates what the zone does and takes what they want. Andrew Wiggins, Perry Ellis, and Wayne Selden all had potentially the worst games of the season, yet the Jayhawks still won the game. That is something that should make the rest of the nation extremely nervous. Turnovers are the one thing they can’t shake off. 19 turnovers for the game didn’t cost the Jayhawks a win this time, but it just as easily could have. If the Jayhawks can get a handle on their turnover woes, this team is without a doubt a serious National Championship contender.
Travis Ford on Kansas after the game:
“I don’t know a team in the country that is as talented and as deep as they are,” Ford said. “They’ve got so many good basketball players, so deep.”
Marcus Smart wasn’t doing any backflips on this night as Kansas improves to 4-0 in the Big-12 season. The Jayhawks conclude a tough 4-game stretch Monday night as they take on #12 Baylor at 9 PM EST. The game can be seen on ESPN.