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Agbaji the hero as #5 Jayhawks escape #13 Red Raiders in double OT

Jayhawks Bill Self

The Kansas Jayhawks had to overcome a blown 12-point lead and two overtimes to down the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Monday night, surviving 94-91 to improve to 6-1 in Big 12 play.

Senior guard Ochai Agbaji, in a season headlined by huge performance after huge performance, put forth his magnum opus against Texas Tech. Both on the stat sheet and in terms of stepping up when the lights were the brightest, Agbaji willed Kansas to the victory.

He posted a new career high in points with 37, shooting 13-of-23 from the floor and 7-of-12 from three-point range.

Agbaji made every moment count, too, hitting multiple big shots down the stretch. The most important one of the bunch was a contested three pointer to send the game to the second overtime.

 

“That’s a bad boy,” freshman forward K.J. Adams said about Agbaji. “I really think he’s the best player in America.”

KU coach Bill Self echoed the sentiment, saying that while it’s too early for him to discuss postseason awards, he thinks Agbaji deserves to be in the national player of the year conversation.

“I think that we can play better, but I don’t know if an individual can play better,” Self said. “I told him I don’t know if we’ve ever had an individual play better than that.”

Adams played a major role in the win as well, playing 17 minutes off the bench, including all of the second overtime period. He scored a season-high six points, including a clutch tip-in, but he was also vital on the offensive glass, especially on a late possession that resulted in a pair of free throws for junior guard Christian Braun.

Adams spoke at length about the confidence both his teammates and coaching staff were able to instill in him in the game’s waning moments.

“It definitely means a lot coming from the coaching staff to let me go in during the second overtime,” Adams said, adding that he didn’t expect to play in those kind of situations this season.

For as important and well-received as Adams was in Monday’s win, the capacity crowd at Allen Fieldhouse (and seemingly everyone following the game via Twitter) was perplexed at senior guard Remy Martin’s usage. The Arizona State transfer subbed out when Kansas still led by double figures in the second half, then didn’t return to the game in either overtime session.

Martin finished with 4 points on 2-of-7 shooting with five assists and four rebounds.

The Jayhawks came up with a biggest shot of the game and made the most plays late, but the Red Raiders, who already own a win over KU this season, were up to the task for the full 50 minutes of game time. The 13th-ranked team in the nation even had their own 30-point scorer in Bryson Williams who dropped in 33.

In three career games against Kansas, between this season at Texas Tech and last season at UTEP, Williams is averaging 26 points per game.

The Red Raiders’ defense, which is currently the fourth-best in the nation according to Kenpom, was also a major challenge for the Jayhawks. Braun spoke about how difficult they were to attack, with one caveat.

“They slowed us down for the most part,” Braun said, “Well, except Ochai.”

Agbaji said that KU’s recent stretch of close games, including this past Saturday’s win over Kansas State, helped prepare for the Jayhawks for a moment like this.

“With the games that we’ve had … it actually helped us tonight because we’ve been in that position before,” Agbaji said.

Beyond the importance for the Big 12 race, multiple Jayhawks commented on how much they enjoyed play this type game and battling against another one of the country’s best programs this year.

“It was wild, it was a long game, they hit big shots, we hit big shots, it was honestly one of the most fun games I’ve played in,” Braun said.

A busy and challenging week for the Jayhawks won’t get any easier in the near future. After a stretch of days off this week, which Self indicated could last until Thursday, KU will face the Kentucky Wildcats in their Big 12/SEC Challenge matchup this Saturday. The Big 12 race reignites right after that, with Kansas facing No. 23 Iowa State and No. 4 Baylor in subsequent games following this weekend.



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