The Kansas Jayhawks faced unfamiliar territory in the year’s first Sunflower Showdown, trailing the white-hot Kansas State Wildcats by 16 at halftime.
Slowly but sure, though, the seventh-ranked team in the nation chipped away and withstood one of the best offensive performances in years from their in-state rivals.
In the end, the Jayhawks earned their sixth win in a row in the series, narrowly eclipsing the Wildcats 78-75.
The comeback and last-second victory for KU was the headline story by the end of the day, but for the majority of the afternoon the hectic rivalry bout was the backdrop for a clash of titans, starring Kansas senior guard Ochai Agbaji and K-State sophomore guard Nijel Pack.
Agbaji got to be the hero, hitting the game winning-shot with just a second left in the contest, gently dropping in a baseline floater to give KU its first lead since the waxing moments of the game. Arguably the frontrunner for Big 12 player of the year honors, the Kansas City, Missouri native put on another show in Manhattan, pouring in 29 points to lead the Jayhawks.
His effort was a mere subplot for the lion’s share of the game because of Pack’s career day. The sophomore posted a career-high 35 points on 12-of-18 shooting, including 8-of-12 from the three-point line. He also made all three of his free throws and tied for K-State’s team high in rebounds with four.
As a whole, the Wildcats put up one of their best offensive games of the year, especially in the first half. But the final minutes of the game were both critical and devastating for K-State, which missed seven of its last eight shots from the field.
KU, in contrast, capped the game with a 9-0 run.
KU struggled to shoot from the perimeter, hitting just 5-of-21 shots behind the arc, including a 1-of-9 performance in the second half. The Jayhawks did have a major advantage at the free throw line, however. Kansas attempted 30 free throws, including the last 12 of the game.
Two Jayhawks racked up double-doubles in the in, including both senior David McCormack and sophomore Jalen Wilson. McCormack had 11 points and 15 rebounds, while Wilson scored 16 points and grabbed 10 boards. Kansas was +22 in the rebounding margin.
Emotions ran high for the Jayhawks as well, playing their first day following the death of coach Bill Self’s father, Bill Self Sr.
Junior guard Markquis Nowell had a big day in the loss for K-State, scoring 16 points and dishing out a game-high six assists, while sophomore forward Selton Miguel also got into double digits for the Wildcats with 11 points.
With the win, the Jayhawks are now 5-1 in the Big 12 and alone atop the conference standings. The Wildcats drop to 2-5 in the league.
KU will return to Lawrence on Monday night to face the No. 18 Texas Tech Red Raiders. The toughest stretch of K-State’s schedule, featuring four ranked opponents in a row, continues Tuesday versus the No. 5 Baylor Bears.