LAWRENCE, Kan. — No. 11 Kansas survived a game Monday that was indicative of the strong competitive balance the Big 12 boasts in basketball.
After grabbing a 20-point lead over No. 18 Oklahoma in the first half, the Jayhawks fell behind by four in front of a home sellout at Allen Fieldhouse.
Backup guard Brannen Greene, a sophomore, buried the only 3-pointer Kansas made in the second half after canning nine treys, including their first eight, before halftime.
That bomb by the 6-foot-7 sophomore proved to be the biggest 3-pointer of the night. It gave Kansas a 73-71 margin with 3:20 remaining. The Jayhawks did not relinquish the lead after that, going on a 16-9 run to close things out.
“We knew we wouldn’t shoot 3s like that in the second half,” Greene said. “It’s a game of runs, but we got back into it and pulled out the win.”
The victory boosted Kansas into a first-place tie with Kansas State atop the Big 12 at 4-1. The Jayhawks improved to 15-3 overall coming off a loss two nights earlier at Iowa State.
Greene provided 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting, while another sub, freshman forward Cliff Alexander, posted a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Freshman guard Kelly Oubre led the Jayhawks with 19 points, while junior forward Perry Ellis added 16.
“We played as well as we’ve played, maybe as well as we can play in the first half. Not just because we were making shots, but because the ball moved,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “In the second half, we weren’t as good, but they were playing great. When you’re playing from behind, sometimes those are the most fun games you can play in on offense because there’s no pressure to make shots.”
Certainly pressure mounted on the Jayhawks when they found themselves trailing. A 20-point margin was the largest lead Kansas had ever surrendered in a defeat, in 2003 at home against Arizona.
This time, the Jayhawks survived the scare and pushed their homecourt win streak to 18 in a row by holding the Sooners (14-6, 3-3) without a field goal over the final 2:20. Junior guard Isaiah Cousins made that shot, a 3-pointer. He netted 18 points, while junior guard Buddy Hield led Oklahoma with 26. Each had seven makes while combining for 34 attempts.
“It was largely frustrating, though we did a good job fighting back. I’m proud of the guys,” Hield said. “We should have done a better job executing the first half, but Kansas was making shots the first half. Everybody was confident. Coach Kruger does a good job keeping us steady.”
From the sound of it, the Sooners head coach will maintain an even keel, despite being on the verge of his first coaching win at Kansas since going 2-2 in Allen Fieldhouse as Kansas State’s coach from 1986-90.
“I feel good that they hung around and stayed together,” Kruger said. “Deflections and transition got us going in second half, but we’re still disappointing in the second half. You still have to take the good from how you played.”
For Kansas, the biggest lift came from Alexander’s presence. The 6-foot-8 banger played just 14 minutes in the loss at Iowa State, when Self said Alexander did not play with a revved motor.
Against the Sooners, Alexander was completely charged and recorded his double-double over 23 minutes.
“It’s been a struggle because he hasn’t brought the same energy level consistently,” Self said. “When he doesn’t play with energy and bounce, he just becomes average.”
Kansas connected on its first eight 3-point attempts, then settled for nine treys in the first half. That tied a school record for 3-pointers in a half. Six Jayhawks connected from long range to help provide a 51-32 halftime spread.
Ellis scored 11 first-half points to lead Kansas, which led by as many as 20 barely 10 minutes into the game. Freshman guard Kelly Oubre added 10 first-half points.
The Jayhawks defense was also solid at the outset, forcing nine first-half turnovers that Kansas turned into 14 points.
Hield was coming off a performance against Oklahoma State in which he made 12 consecutive shots. He made his first two shots against Kansas, then missed his next five and had seven points at halftime.
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