The Kansas Jayhawks rode a ballistic shooting effort to victory on Tuesday night, soaring past the Kansas State Wildcats in the second Sunflower Showdown of the year 102-83.
That’s the first 100-point game for the Jayhawks against the Wildcats since posting 103 points in a win back in 2002. It’s also just the third time in the coach Bruce Weber era that K-State has allowed 100 points in a game, all of which have come over the last two seasons.
Kansas logged its best shooting night of the year, hitting 64.1% of its shots from the floor and 62.5% from three-point range. It was an even effort, too, with KU scoring 53 points in the first half and 49 in the second.
The offensive fireworks rightfully stole the show, but on the flipside it was one of the weaker defensive games of the season for both teams. In fact, that was the worst opponent field goal percentage allowed by K-State under Weber.
“We played pretty well offensively, we were cooking there for a while,” Self said. “We couldn’t stop them, they couldn’t stop us there for a stretch.”
K-State senior guard Mike McGuirl said the Wildcats just couldn’t keep up with the Jayhawks.
“We were slow, we were slow on everything,” McGuirl said. “They were moving fast with the offense they have. We were just too slow to rotate.”
Kansas senior guard Ochai Agbaji led the scoring barrage, with the reigning Big 12 player of the week pouring in a game-high 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting and 4-of-6 from three, the second game in a row he’s scored exactly 23 points.
That’s also the 15th 20-point game of the season for the frontrunner for Big 12 Player of the Year, but he found other ways to contribute, too: Agbaji tied for the KU high in rebounds with seven, and he also dished out five assists.
“When defenses key in on me, I just have to create for my teammates,” Agbaji said. “Obviously, I feel like all eyes of the defense are on me.”
Agbaji also surpassed Wilt Chamberlain on KU’s all-time scoring list, which he called an honor after he was informed about it after the game.
Junior guard Christian Braun also cracked 20 points for the Jayhawks, connecting on 8-of-12 shots from the floor and three made threes of his own. Two other Kansas players also reached double figures, with sophomore guard Jalen Wilson scoring 17 points and senior forward Mitch Lightfoot contributing 13.
While the Jayhawks only officially recorded 13 points on fast breaks, they did run the floor consistently and successfully throughout the game.
“We like when teams try to push the pace with us,” Braun said, adding that KU has been decisive and the run, and “When Ochai’s hitting threes like that, it’s hard to stop us.”
Self said the Jayhawks were actually surprised by how much K-State tried to run, adding that most of KU’s opponents try to slow the game down.
“I was just shocked there were that many possessions in the game,” Self said.
Not only did the Jayhawks get plenty of contributions from their top three scorers on the year, but Lightfoot’s 13 points led a 31-point effort from the KU bench. That’s a departure from their recent reserve scoring output, which tallied just 26 points over the previous four games.
“Late in the season, guys stepping up to the table in big games like these, that’s good to see and I’m just proud of my team for that,” Agbaji said.
Kansas pulled away with the more impressive offensive output, but K-State had a strong offensive night of its own. Its 83 points scored was actually a season high. For the game, the Wildcats shot 47.1% from the floor, their best mark in a Big 12 game this season.
Junior guard Markquis Nowell paced K-State with 20 points in the win, including 3-of-8 from distance, while sophomore guard Nijel Pack was one of three Wildcats to score exactly 13 points, with just two of those coming after halftime. That’s a stark contrast from his first Sunflower Showdown performance of the year, when he scored a career-high 35 points in a loss in Manhattan.
Agbaji said KU’s defensive strategy against Pack was based on their experiences from the January matchup.
“Just make it tough, he moves well without the ball,” Agbaji said, “no open looks, no helping off of him.”
For Weber, the struggles started before the game did, with a rough practice ushering in a rough night for the Wildcats.
“They just didn’t practice well,” Weber said. “Yesterday, just a couple of guys that were not quite where they needed to be. I challenged the older guys, told them you’ve got to hold people accountable.”
Kansas is now 23-4 overall this season, 12-2 in Big 12 play and was already in line for No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament before its last two games, according to the selection committee’s in-season reveal of the big dance’s top 16 seeds on Saturday.
Kansas State, meanwhile, is in a perilous position after dropping a second straight game as it fights for a spot on the tournament bubble. The Wildcats are now 14-13 overall with just three games to go before the Big 12 tournament. Weber said after Tuesday’s game that K-State is looking for a potential replacement game before the end of the year to bolster its resume.
K-State’s game with North Florida was canceled, even after the Ospreys replaced another canceled game against Morgan State on the Wildcats’ schedule.
The Jayhawks have their biggest test remaining in the regular season when they visit the No. 10 Baylor Bears in Waco this Saturday. KU already owns a blowout win over Baylor this season. The Wildcats, meanwhile, will return home to Bramlage Coliseum on Saturday to host the Iowa State Cyclones in what might be a must-win game to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive.