The Kansas Jayhawks survived a major upset scare from the North Dakota State Bison on Saturday afternoon, holding on for a 65-61 win to improve to 4-1 on the season.
With the game in the balance, it was a rising star and a transfer who made the biggest impacts for the Jayhawks.
North Dakota State led for over 26 minutes of game time, compared to under eight for Kansas. The second half was especially difficult for KU, which shot just 31% from the floor after halftime. Redshirt freshman Jalen Wilson was the difference-maker on the offensive end of the floor who helped propel the Jayhawks to the victory. He went just 5-of-15 shooting for the game for 14 points, but he scored 10 in the second half all within a 7:40 time frame in the middle of the period.
Wilson was also a major contributor on the glass, pulling in a game-high 15 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds.
He has been arguably the best player for the Jayhawks through five games this season, something that hasn’t been lost on his teammates.
“He was the one that had shown the most improvement out of all of us,” junior guard Ochai Agbaji said.
Junior guard Tyon Grant-Foster was the other Kansas player who came up with major clutch plays late in the game, also making an impact on each end of the floor. Offensively, he scored one of the most crucial baskets of the game just past the midway point of the second half.
With 1:20 to play, Grant-Foster drove to the basket with a one-on-one matchup, getting to the hole for a layup to take the lead at 62-61. Then, defensively, he elevated to block a shot from NDSU’s Sam Griesel, swatting away a shot the Bison desperately needed. Agbaji grabbed the rebound and tacked on a free throw to seal the win.
Grant-Foster said that block was his favorite play of the game.
“I knew No. 5 was going to shoot it, and once he did the spin I knew he wasn’t going to see me come and go,” Grant-Foster said. “I love blocking shots.”
Kansas coach Bill Self said that Grant-Foster proved over the course of the game why he deserved to play more minutes than he had earlier this season.
“I just try to put the guys in there that I think can give us something ,” Self said.
Grant-Foster finished with eight points, eight rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
Despite barely holding on against a program that was 0-3 entering the game, Self said there were good things the Jayhawks can take away from this kind of close victory.
“I thought we grinded great, I thought situationally we played really well down the stretch, I thought we competed hard,” Self said. “There were some good things about the win today.”
He also added that there was some positive signs for junior forward David McCormack, who has struggled in various facets of the game early this year. While he liked some of what he showed Saturday, however, Self added that the KU big men need to provide more as the season progresses.
“David and Mitch [Lightfoot] have got to get in the game,” Self said. “We’re not going to have unbelievable success in our league playing that many minutes small.”
Self added that defensively, the best option for Kansas was to play mostly with five guards in the win.
This was the final game for KU before a small number of fans will be allowed into Allen Fieldhouse. Through two home games this season, only the family members of players and coaches have been allowed to attend, and Self said that no crowd noise affected the way the Jayhawks played down the stretch.
“I think having 2,500 people in the stands will make a difference,” Self said, adding that he thinks it will be harder to win at home and easier to win away from home this season.
Kansas gets to stay home in Lawrence for its next game, which will be a ranked meeting with ninth-ranked Creighton. That game will tip off at 4:00 on Tuesday.
Click below to hear what Bill Self and the Jayhawks had to say after their 65-61 win over North Dakota State.