Kansas guard Dajuan Harris Jr. (3) working to get around TCU guard Mike Miles Jr. (1) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, February 20, 2023, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Fort Worth, Texas — Forget the Big 12 race or the joy of winning a road grinder; Kansas point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. had only one thing on his mind when the final horn sounded on No. 3 ranked Kansas’ 63-58 road win at No. 24 TCU on Monday night.
Get the ball.
As soon as TCU’s Mike Miles Jr. throwing the ball along the floor with little joy and no hope of winning, Harris chased it down.
Less than an hour later, the ball was still with the Jayhawks, with a few messages written on it, including “Road Kill” and “Funky Town,” the unofficial name of the TCU student section.
“We had to get this back,” Harris said of the orange Nike basketball after the win. “When we lost (to them) the first game, we saw that they posted (our game ball) on social media, so we really wanted this win, we wanted the ball too. So, as soon as the buzzer went off, I had to get it .”
Added KU freshman Gradey Dick, who scored 19 points in Monday’s win and walked out of the gym wearing one of the white T-shirts TCU gave away for Monday’s game: “They were petty about it, so we had to be petty, too .”
That word – petty, without the R as the second letter – was the perfect word to use in the wake of Monday’s win, Kansas’ fifth in a row in Big 12 play.
Because there was absolutely nothing pretty about the way the Jayhawks won. But they liked everything about the result.
PHOTO GALLERY: Kansas basketball at TCU
Box score: Kansas 63, TCU 58
“The one in Lawrence (an 83-60 TCU win), we played terrible and they played well and we didn’t do anything to make them not play well,” KU coach Bill Self said after the win. “Today we watched at least and studied for 40 minutes at most.”
The Jayhawks (23-5 overall, 11-4 Big 12) held TCU to 30% shooting on the night and beat the Horned Frogs 48-42. They also turned it over just 11 times and somehow outscored the bigger, taller TCU team 42-30 in points in the paint.
Rebounding, which Dick said was “huge” in delivering the win, played a big role in KU’s edge inside. Thirteen of KU’s rebounds came on the offensive glass, and that led to 10 second-chance points. On a night where it takes everything you need to get to 60, scoring 17% of the effort on your own misses is huge.
“(It was just about) trying to find a way to win,” KU junior Jalen Wilson after finishing with seven points and 13 rebounds. “On the road it will never always be pretty; you’re bound to win some ugly battles. Today was one of those games, but at the end of the day we’re going to find a way to win (and) do what it takes to win.
No stretch illustrated that better than the final five minutes, as KU scored just three free throws in the final 4:45, but still walked away with the win.
The biggest stop came on a layup of TCU forward Damion Baugh by McCullar, which Self said was both “awesome” and “awesome” in six minutes during the postgame press conference.
“In the Big 12, you have to get stops down the stretch to win big games,” said McCullar, who finished with 15 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and a steal.
That particular play, which was actually part block, part steal, part tie-up, came with about 30 seconds to play and Kansas leading by three. The possession arrow favored the Jayhawks at the time, and after running off about seven seconds, Wilson went to the free throw line to try and put KU up by two possessions.
Wilson, who shot just 3-of-11 on the night, missed the first charity shot, giving TCU one last chance to tie the game. But Baugh’s deep 3-point attempt over Dick missed the rim and McCullar grabbed the rebound with 1.5 seconds left. He was immediately fouled, and this time KU got the free throws they needed to ice the game.
Make no mistake about it; Monday’s win was a big game. And, ball or no ball, the result moved Kansas a half-game ahead of Texas in the Big 12 race with three games to play. Texas will host Iowa State on Tuesday and Baylor, now a game and a half behind KU, will play at Kansas State.
A couple of minutes before the clincher, on back-to-back possessions with less than six minutes to play, the Jayhawks got a couple more stops that helped them build the cushion.
The first came when Wilson rebounded a TCU miss with his shoulder caught in the wing of a TCU player. And the second came when the Jayhawks forced an errant pass past the Frogs through the paint to regain possession.
Harris scored on a drive to the rim after one of the stops and Wilson recorded a tough offensive rebound and put-back after the second to put the Jayhawks up 60-53 with 4:45 left.
Much of that came immediately after TCU quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Max Duggan made a late entrance in a tuxedo after receiving the Davey O’Brien Award on campus earlier in the evening.
Duggan and his date were greeted by a wild round of applause from the TCU fans as he took his seat at midfield. Unlike Duggan’s success on the gridiron, however, his presence on the floor Monday did not lead the Horned Frogs (18-10, 7-8) to victory.
When asked about the environment Monday night, Self referred to the talented QB.
“I thought it was great,” Self said of the atmosphere. “It’s the best it’s been since I’ve been here. And if you just make Max Duggan go every five minutes, that would be even better. I’m just glad he didn’t get here sooner.”
While KU’s obsession with snapping the ball certainly suggested otherwise, the Jayhawks insisted their main goal Monday was just to continue playing with energy and effort, believing that would give them the best chance for a favorable outcome.
That’s not to say revenge didn’t play some sort of role in Monday’s game. But the Jayhawks’ ability to focus on the right things while chasing that revenge speaks volumes for this team’s growth over the past month.
“They came into our house and pretty much harassed us,” McCullar said. “We came out flat that day and we’ve been preaching ever since and trying to come out with more energy and just execute and play together and play the right way and today we did that and got a big road dub that we needed. ”
Added Self when asked if he sensed his players really wanted TCU back: “They did. But I don’t see it that way. I look at it like they beat us and we just wanted to come and play better this time. Since we’ve been in Kansas, I think two teams have beaten us in 20 years, and this could easily be the third. Things like that might not mean anything to (the players), but I know it certainly motivates our staff, which probably trickles down to them.
As for the added motivation of the game ball, Harris was asked on his way out the door if getting the win or the ball felt better. His response was the perfect summation for the way this team is starting to think.
“Both,” Harris said.
#KUbball PG Dajuan Harris with the arcade. TCU took it from Lawrence and posted it on social media, and KU was determined to get it back tonight. Asked if it was better to get the win or the ball, Harris said, “Both.” pic.twitter.com/89LzxmJqtX
— Matt Tait (@mctait) 21 February 2023
Photo Gallery: Kansas basketball at TCU
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