David McCormack delivers off bench for KU Jayhawks in 31st straight league opening win

A motivated David McCormack scored a season-best 17 points and grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds in coming off the bench for first time his senior season and just the second time in the last two years Tuesday night at Oklahoma State.

“I think I saw a motivated guy,” Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self said after the 6-foot-10 Norfolk, Virginia native sank a season-high seven baskets while hoisting a season-high 13 shot attempts in the Jayhawks’ 74-63 victory at Gallagher-Iba Arena in the league opener for both teams.

Senior Mitch Lightfoot, who made his first start of the season (in place of McCormack), and ninth of his five-year KU career, scored six points with four rebounds and four blocks in 15 minutes. McCormack played 23 minutes.

“Sometimes the best way to be motivated,” Self added, “is not to think and get mad. I think he was probably more enthused to play because he was (ticked). I don’t think that was all bad. I thought he did a really good job,” Self added, quick to point out, “I thought Mitch gave us some good minutes too.”

If McCormack was angry at being demoted from starter to reserve, he didn’t show it in his postgame media session.

“Coach switched the lineup. I think it was for the better,” McCormack said. “Like he said, I think it made everybody feel at ease in a sense, everybody adjusting to a new role, embracing it I think for the better.”

Self said he didn’t know if McCormack felt less pressure coming off the bench.

“I’m not a psychologist,” KU’s 19th-year coach said after his squad won its eighth straight game and improved to 12-1 on the season. OSU fell to 7-5.

McCormack addressed that issue after the game.

“Actually I just feel less pressure going into the Big 12 in general,” he said after KU won its 31st consecutive league opener, overcoming an 0-for-19 shooting stretch at the end of the first half.

“I don’t know why. Big 12 play is start of a new season, in my mind a chance to start again, refresh and kind of embrace the player I know I am,” McCormack added.

McCormack surpassed his previous career high of 13 rebounds against Duke in 2019 and at St. John’s earlier this season.

“Being an inside presence and to rebound,” McCormack said of his goals entering the game as a sixth man.

KU senior guard Ochai Agbaji, who scored 16 points, was impressed with the play of McCormack in the league opener.

“I didn’t know he had 15 rebounds until he came in the locker room at the end. He and Jalen (Wilson also had a career-high tying 15 boards),” Agbaji said. “He (McCormack) was spectacular. There was a point of the game I was telling him, ‘Keep going. We’ll keep feeding you.’’’

Lightfoot said he was happy McCormack had perhaps his best game of the season.

“He played his butt off,” Lightfoot said. “I’m so excited to see David play that well: clean up the glass, scoring, turnaround, attacking.”

This all begs the question … will KU coach Self continue to start Lightfoot and bring McCormack off the bench?

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” Self said, adding, “it doesn’t really matter much (who starts).”

As to how he’ll evaluate the situation heading into Saturday’s 3 p.m. game at Texas Tech, Self said: “Maybe I’ll talk to the guys and see what they thought. We won a game on the road in a hard league against a quality opponent doing what we did. I don’t know exactly how we’ll do it. You guys make a bigger deal out of that (than coaches).”

Lightfoot said he trusted his coach to make the call: “I would say whatever is best for the team,” Lightfoot said.

He did concede he enjoyed the start.

“It means something. There’s responsibility. You’ve got to give what coach expects out of you, maybe a little bit more,” Lightfoot said.

McCormack also sounded like a guy who would embrace either role in the future.

“I think it’s in my nature to do it either way,” McCormack said of producing as a starter or sixth man. “The Big 12 season is the start of a new season. Coach said it. ‘You start 0-0 today.’ We are 1-0. I can see us keeping that same mindset moving forward.”