Debuting on the big stage in the Big Apple, the Kansas basketball team kicked off their season with an 87-74 win against the Michigan State Spartans at Madison Square Garden at the annual Champions Classic in New York.
The game started off – and stayed – close until about the 15 minutes mark in the second half when KU started to pull away after a technical foul on MSU Coach Tom Izzo.
KU’s effort was made possible by a huge performance by veteran Ochai Agbaji. He hit a career-high 29 points with no turnovers. He did a bit of everything, including the game’s first points in a 3 point jumper and a beautiful alley-oop catch from teammate Christian Braun. It was clear Agbaji was much more aggressive and looked like a man on a mission to lead.
Down a player with Jalen Wilson suspended for a suspected DUI, the Spartans certainly had the size advantage. KU missed Wilson’s ability to get rebounds as MSU was +7 on the boards.
We also saw MSU show their toughness on defense and quickness by challenging shots and getting back in transition.
Agbaji was complemented by newcomer Remy Martin, who came into the game with a ton of energy despite not scoring until the second half. After getting on the scoreboard, however, he finished with 15 points and 6 rebounds.
Martin got the start in this contest after coming off the bench in the exhibition home opener. Coach Bill Self made it clear that Martin needed to get on the same page as him, and Martin certainly stepped up.
Aside from the main attraction in Agbaji and Martin, KU also saw really solid minutes from Zach Clemence, KJ Adams, and Bobby Pettiford.
It’s clear that KU’s main guys each game shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the difference in this team is they’ve got 4+ players off the bench that have a chance to hit double digits on a night.
Look for Self to tweak his rotation and whittle it down some as we approach the holiday months. However, if Tuesday’s win is an indication of the season to come, the Jayhawks should have a legitimate chance at success.