ELMONT, NY — The Kansas men’s basketball team may not have been pleased with its performance in Florida, but there’s a lot worth celebrating about how it did Friday in New York against St. John’s.
The Jayhawks (6-1) routed the Red Storm (5-2) for a 95-75 victory. Kansas coach Bill Self watched his squad handle a run in the second half that cut its lead to just three points, and control the rest of the game to win by 20 points. In a game the Jayhawks’ starters shined for the most part, junior guard Christian Braun, senior forward David McCormack and senior guard Ochai Agbaji really showcased their skillsets.
Braun scored a career-high 31 points, in addition to grabbing eight rebounds, dishing out four assists and collecting three steals while only turning the ball over twice. McCormack had a 15-point, 13-rebound double-double that saw tie for a career-high in rebounds. Agbaji had 23 points and seven rebounds without turning the ball over once.
“It’s really important now,” said Agbaji, discussing the significance of winning the game the way they did. “These preseason games mean a lot, kind of practicing for conference road games and when we have road stretches … winning on the road and responding to big crowds like this. So, I think it’s just all learning. New team, lot of newcomers, and they’re learning, too. So, we’re just taking it game-by-game.”
Next up for Kansas is a Dec. 7 matchup in Kansas City against UTEP. Before that game takes place, here are four takeaways from the Jayhawks’ latest victory:
Christian Braun stars again for Kansas
Coming off of a string of performances in the ESPN Events Invitational, in which Braun was the Jayhawks’ top player, Braun didn’t let that momentum go to waste. He shot 10-for-16 from the field, 2-for-4 from behind the arc and 9-for-10 from the free-throw line. He had the best +/- of any Kansas player, with a +21.
Agbaji said Braun was playing with a level of confidence that everyone fed off of, that Braun was living up to the nickname super-senior guard Chris Teahan gave of “freshman year Christian.” Because Braun was playing with an attitude like he’s that guy, the man.
Self thinks any time someone shows their personality it’s important, because that energy is contagious. Self added that Braun is a much better player when he shows how much fun he’s having out there, and alluded to being pleased that this time when Braun had an emphatic dunk he didn’t receive a technical foul during the celebration.
“(Braun)’s climbing up some draft boards himself,” Self said. “He’s a good player. He does a little bit of everything, a lot of everything. He’s a good rebounder and obviously he can shoot the ball and he’s strong and can finish around the rim. So, he’s a good player and he’s playing the best he’s played since he’s been here with us.”
Braun downplayed the significance of what he accomplished, with the career-high in points, by saying he was just trying to help his team win. He highlighted how well Agbaji played in the first half and how McCormack did overall.
This past offseason, Braun said he just worked on being aggressive. He knew he wasn’t just a spot-up shooter, that if he’s aggressive opportunities to score will come. He understands he benefits from being on a talented team with a number of guys on the roster opposing defenses have to worry about.
David McCormack rebounds from slow start
Through the first six games of the season, McCormack put a lot of pressure on himself. Whatever high expectations he had of himself, he doubled that and tried to be a perfectionist. And the results weren’t meeting those expectations.
So, ahead of this game against St. John’s, McCormack told himself to let all that go and move forward. He knew his teammates and coaches had his back. And he delivered.
“Personally, it just feels good again to get back and just playing loose, playing free,” McCormack said. “I just kind of let the game come to me and didn’t force anything.”
Self said Kansas is much better when it’s able to play through a big-man, like it did at times with McCormack against St. John’s. Self hopes this can jumpstart McCormack’s play this season.
Rebounding, second-chance points help deliver Kansas’ win
The two main things that St. John’s head coach Mike Anderson came into the game thinking about were rebounding and second-chance points. And, according to Anderson, those two things ended up being the difference Friday.
“They scored 24 points on the second shot,” Anderson said. “You can’t have that. You can’t let that take place.”
Like Anderson said, Kansas had 24 second-chance points off of 19 offensive rebounds while St. John’s had six second-chance points off of nine offensive rebounds. In total, the Jayhawks out-rebounded the Red Storm 47-29.
Kansas took 15 more shots from the field than St. John’s did, and about the same amount of free throws. Self’s squad finished shooting 48.6 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from behind the arc and 72 percent from the free-throw line. Anderson’s squad finished shooting 43.6 percent from the field, 40.7 percent from behind the arc and 61.5 percent from the free-throw line.
Julian Champagnie shines, just not enough for St. John’s to win
Self considers Julian Champagnie, St. John’s star junior guard/forward, one of the best players in the Big East Conference. And Champagnie showed why, scoring 24 points while shooting 7-for-13 from the field and 6-for-9 from behind the arc. That run that saw the Red Storm cut the Jayhawks’ lead to three points in the second half, included Champagnie hitting five separate 3-point field goals.
“I don’t like losing … neither do my teammates,” Champagnie said. “So, we kind of just came out in the second half and said we’ve got to play a little harder, a lot harder. There are going to be some shots taken that don’t go in, even some bad shots taken. It’s basketball. It’s a game of runs. It happens. So, I kind of just telling myself just to shoot the basketball and do what you do.”
St. John’s just wasn’t able to turn that momentum into a tie score or a lead. The Red Storm’s only lead came when they were up 2-0 early in the first half. The Jayhawks would lead by as many as 22 points in the second half and were able to get some end-of-the-rotation players some valuable experience late.
Self thought Kansas didn’t guard Champagnie well to start the second half, but didn’t say that to take away from what Champagnie accomplished. Champagnie still had to hit those contested shots. Agbaji made a similar comment about Champagnie’s talent, and said in the first half Braun did well defending Champagnie.
Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas rebounds from Florida trip, routs St. John’s for latest victory