The depleted Jayhawks cruised to a 64-61 win over Baylor

The depleted Jayhawks cruised to a 64-61 win over Baylor

Kansas center Hunter Dickenson (1) shoots the ball over Baylor forward Josh Ogiannona (15) during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, at Allen Fieldhouse. Photography by Nick Krug

A week after elevating its offense to elite level to defeat Houston’s vaunted defense, the Kansas men’s basketball team faced the opposite task against Baylor on Saturday night.

She had to tighten up the defense to calm down one of the country’s strongest pitching groups — and as it turned out, she ended up needing to do that while losing players from her rotation.

With Kevin McCullar Jr. out. With injury and Jamari McDowell out with illness, the Jayhawks made 17 steals and forced the Bears into 21 turnovers, limiting their possessions even as Baylor started to heat up from 3-point range.

Instead, it was KU point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. And it was first-time starter Nick Timberlake who hit key 3-pointers in the second half, before KU overcame a recent BU rally and cruised to an ugly but pivotal 64-61 win at Allen Fieldhouse.

“Playing in front of these great fans, and the energy they give us, KU shouldn’t lose at home too many times,” center Hunter Dickinson said after the game. “Just with the atmosphere, with our coach, with the system that we run, it should be really hard for someone to come in here and beat us no matter who plays out there.”

Harris briefly left the game after landing awkwardly on a contested layup attempt with four minutes left but returned just two minutes later. He then hit a floater late in the shot clock to briefly help extend the Jayhawks’ lead to five points.

Four starters were in double figures for KU, 15 points behind Dickinson despite 7-for-19 shooting and 14 by Harris.

“I was hoping the game would be slow, and that’s what happened,” KU coach Bill Self said. “I was hoping the game would be ugly and muddy, and it was, largely because they turned it over, and largely because we couldn’t get the shots.”

Baylor, which itself was missing one of its top scorers off its bench in Langston Love, was led by a pair of freshmen: He got 21 points from center Yves Messi, who battled with Dickinson all day and who Self said “is obviously going to be a scorer”. Great pro,” and 17 from guard Jacoby Walter. The Bears also outrebounded KU 42-25.

Walter and Jayden Nunn both missed potential 3-pointers in the final seconds.

“They got exactly what they wanted because we couldn’t juggle five-on-five and simple high-ball screen switching,” Self said.

Four early points from KJ Adams and a strong start on the defensive end helped KU jump ahead quickly, then the Bears tried to go under the screen and allowed a 3-pointer by Harris before a layup by Dickenson made it 12-4 and forced an early timeout.

Baylor committed six turnovers in less than seven minutes of game time and did not score again until they cut the lead to 10 on a layup from Messi.

“I take responsibility offensively for our spacing and that was the real difference in the game,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, who later said of the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs. “If Mahomes threw a pick-six, they wouldn’t win tomorrow.”

“I actually thought our hands were better tonight,” Self said of the Jayhawks’ defense. “I thought our off-ball defense was excellent. I thought Hunter did a great job defending the ball screen. I thought behind that we had some guys that fouled out a few times but Most of the time it was really good, because that’s how they score.

The Bears kept it close when KU’s defense started to show some weakness on the perimeter and Jalen Bridges made a pair of 3s. Elsewhere, forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchowa missed two open attempts of his own, and the Jayhawks cut their lead to 25-15 when Johnny Furvie found Dickenson along the baseline for a tough layup.

Elmarko Jackson missed a 3-point attempt in the corner and the KU bench was called for a technical foul after the call, allowing the Bears to cut that lead in half at one play.

Furvi was fouled down the baseline the next time around and converted his free throw for a three-point play, but he threw a post-entry pass that led to a Messi dunk and then missed a pair of attempts from beyond the arc. Nunn drained a catch-and-shoot 3 to put Baylor back within 28-26.

KU took a 34-28 lead into the first half thanks to a strong final few possessions and a nice feed from Adams to Parker Braun for a dunk.

Furphy converted another three-point play out of the break, but then the Jayhawks nearly lost their entire lead when they gave up an 8-0 run to force a self-timeout.

KU escaped a risky stretch when Baylor left Harris open for another 3 and then Timberlake scored his first goal of the game from the corner to put the Jayhawks back up 50-41.

As the minutes ticked down, Timberlake got on the scoreboard twice more with a two-handed dunk off a steal and another 3.

But the Bears weren’t done with that, as they got hot again from deep, and Walter and Nunn hit 3s to cut Baylor’s deficit to five points with 5:15 left.

Both teams were unable to score in big moments until Harris’ floater.

Timberlake turned the ball over with 14.2 minutes to go and then missed the front end of a one-and-one, allowing Baylor its last chance.

The Jayhawks, now 19-5 (7-4 Big 12 Conference), will face their latest two-day shift when they travel to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech on Monday at 8 p.m. The win boosts their chances in the Big 12 race, but Self’s attitude wasn’t optimistic after the game.

“That’s probably the least happy I’ve been after winning, because that’s not how you play basketball, and that’s definitely not the mindset you’re supposed to play with,” Self said. “I’m disappointed that we were able to make those four or five plays that we made in the last minute that put us in harm’s way to actually lose the game.”

The result is square

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written by Henry Greenstein

Henry is the sports editor for the Lawrence Journal-World and, and serves as a staff writer for KU while managing daily sports coverage. He previously worked as a sports reporter at The Bakersfield Californian and graduated from Washington University in St. Louis (BA in Linguistics) and Arizona State University (MA in Sports Journalism). Even though he’s a Los Angeles native, he’s often been told that he doesn’t give off a “California vibe,” whatever that means.

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