Kansas Jayhawks freshmen cracked slightly against Samford pressure but did not break

The Kansas basketball team faced a rugged test in their first matchup of the 2024 NCAA Tournament when they laced them up against a talented and athletic squad from Samford.
Kansas basketball guard Johnny Furphy
Kansas basketball guard Johnny Furphy / Chris Gardner/GettyImages

It is not easy to win a game during March Madness in which you surrender 16 made three-pointers (ask Kentucky) and commit 17 turnovers, but that is exactly what the Kansas basketball team did on Thursday. They held off a late push by Samford to survive 93-89.

The game, which featured a lot of physical, intense play by the Bulldogs, had a degree of controversy late when a foul was called on Samford on a breakaway dunk by Jayhawks' guard Nicolas Timberlake. Replays appeared to indicate it was a clean block.

That aside, there were plenty of missed calls throughout the game, for both sides. The game did not hinge on that play alone.

How did the freshmen do for the Kansas Jayhawks in there first taste of March Madness?

Samford played a style of basketball reminiscent of Nolan Richardson and Arkansas in the mid nineties. They pressed full court in a pretty good emulation of Richardson's "forty minutes of hell."

Kansas' three freshmen had a fairly rough night of it. Samford pressed pretty hard for most of the first half, though they toned it down slightly in the second half after KU had a lot of success breaking the pressure.

That didn't mean the Bulldogs didn't harass the Jayhawks constantly, looking for every opportunity to pick a pocket or draw contact. At times, it rattled the Jayhawks, especially the freshmen. They have not played against a defense as intense as that one. Houston and Iowa State are both outstanding defensive teams, but they don't play the same style as the one played by Samford.

Elmarko Jackson had a tough night with the ball, committing five turnovers in 21 minutes. Johnny Furphy had four in 35 minutes, including one where he accepted a pass just past the the half court line, then inexplicitly threw it back 20 feet into the back court to Harris. Jamari McDowell added one turnover in his three minutes.

Still, Jackson scored six points, including a couple of pretty good shots when KU needed a basket in the second half. Furphy dropped in 16, including two big three-pointers early in the game, when KU was building a bit of a lead.

Jackson also added three rebounds and an assist, while Furphy recorded eight boards and three assists.

It wasn't just the freshmen who struggled against the pressure. Harris had four turnovers himself, a couple of which were offensive fouls when he wasn't able to separate himself from a scrappy defender. KJ Adams added three turnovers.

The Kansas basketball team won't see this kind of defensive pressure the rest of the tournament, no matter how many games they play. It is be a valuable experience for everyone, but especially those three freshmen, not only for the rest of the tournament, but for next season as well.

The Kansas Jayhawks did, in fact, survive a key test against a scrappy, sharp-shooting, well-coached team, and during March Madness, that's all that matters.