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Kansas Jayhawks escape George Mason Patriots thanks to big bench day

Jayhawks Leipold

The sixth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks managed to knock off the George Mason Patriots on New Years Day 76-67 thanks in large part to season-high performances from a pair of veterans off the bench.

The year opened in far different fashion 2021 ended, with senior guard Ochai Agbaji and junior guard Christian Braun having rough shooting outings. While those two went a combined 7-of-26 from the floor (26.9%), it was super seniors Jalen Coleman-Lands and Mitch Lightfoot who answered the call offensively.

“We wouldn’t have won the game without either one of them, to be honest with you,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said.

Coleman-Lands, the three-time transfer and seventh-year guard, led all scorers with 20 points in the victory, going 7-of-9 from the field and 5-of-7 from three-point range before fouling out. The rest of the Jayhawks went a combined 4-of-21 from beyond the arc.

“Offensively, I feel like they’ve given me confidence to play my game,” Coleman-Lands said, adding: “I feel like, progressively, I’m getting more comfortable.”

Self lauded Coleman-Lands’s performance and his ability to catch and shoot successfully, in particular.

“He played to his strength, because he can really shoot the ball,” Self said, “he’s the best shooter on our team.”

Lightfoot, in his sixth year, tied his career with 14 points on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting in just 21 minutes off the bench.

“It was all set up by my teammates, they’re the ones who allowed me to get those easy baskets,” Lightfoot said.

He provided crucial minutes in place of senior forward David McCormack, who struggled offensively again in the Saturday win. He scored just one point on 0-of-3 shooting with four rebounds, and he only played 10 minutes in the game despite not accumulating any personal fouls.

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Lightfoot added that he’s confident the reigning second-team All-Big 12 pick will get back in a rhythm.

“I feel like I can help him and that will allow him to relax,” Lightfoot said. “I feel like tonight everything wasn’t clicking, but he’s going to figure it out.”

In reaction to both how well Lightfoot played and McCormack’s continued struggles, Self said KU needs to start playing Lightfoot more going forward.

Coleman-Lands and Lightfoot propelled KU to 38 total bench points in the game, compared to just three for George Mason’s reserves.

“It was great,” Lightfoot said. “That was something we needed.”

While they didn’t shoot the ball efficiently, Agbaji and Braun still finished the game in double figures in scoring. Agbaji ended up with 11 points and tied for the team high with seven boards.

Braun started hot, as he has multiple times this season, but opened the second half 0-of-6 from the floor before scoring seven points in the final three minutes.

 

Even with the win and a pair of impressive performances off the bench, Self wasn’t especially impressed by the complete game for the Jayhawks, especially when the Patriots challenged them defensively in the second half.

“What we did sucked,” Self said in regard to a triangle-and-2 defensive look from George Mason. “Our offense second half was awful.”

For the game, KU shot 44.4% overall, its worst performance by that metric this season.

“I thought we were fortunate to win because we didn’t play very well,” Self said.

Kansas had to navigate Saturday’s game without senior guard Remy Martin, who injured his knee against Nevada and wasn’t able to go against George Mason.

That injury looms large with KU’s Big 12 opener coming up Tuesday night against Oklahoma State. Self said his confidence in the Jayhawks’ readiness for conference play does hinge on Martin’s availability.

“I think we’ll be more ready if Remy is able to be healthy,” Self said.

 



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