LAWRENCE — As Ochai Agbaji reflected on Kansas men’s basketball’s double overtime win Monday against Texas Tech, he recalled a conversation he had with Christian Braun postgame in the locker room.
Agbaji said he was telling Braun that whether they’re down one possession or a couple, no one should count them out. The senior guard was telling his junior guard teammate that they have the offense that can hit the shots, and a defense that can embody the right mentality. And after the Jayhawks’ 94-91 victory against the Red Raiders, after how Kansas has won some of its recent games, it’s hard to argue with Agbaji.
Kansas is now 17-2 overall with a 6-1 mark in Big 12 Conference play. Head coach Bill Self’s squad is riding a five-game winning streak, with four of those five wins coming by three points or less. Thanks to Agbaji hitting a 3-pointer late in the first overtime the Jayhawks were able to force a second, and a couple free throws from Braun late in the latter helped seal the win.
“All I can say is the game was unbelievable,” freshman forward KJ Adams Jr. said. “I couldn’t have dreamed a better finish for this game, and this is why I came here, for big games like that, and have incredible moments like that I can tell people down the road.”
Braun, who had 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists, said: “You don’t really get tired in those games, to be real honest. You do, but you know the crowd and just the game in general are so fun. The atmosphere is so fun to play in that don’t really get tired … If you’re out there you’ve got to produce.”
Here are some takeaways from Kansas’ win against Texas Tech (15-5, 5-3 in Big 12). The Jayhawks entered the game fifth in the latest coaches poll, and the Red Raiders 14th.
Ochai Agbaji continues to prove he is a player of the year candidate
If that 3-pointer in overtime wasn’t enough to prove how valuable Agbaji was for Kansas, take a look instead at the career-high 37 points he scored against one of the nation’s top defenses. Take a look at how he shot 7-for-12 from behind the arc, which was better than his 6-for-11 mark on 2s. Take a look at his seven rebounds and two assists to go along with that, with only a few turnovers despite how much the ball was in his hands for the more than 46 minutes he played.
Self understands that it’s too early to determine any postseason awards, but it’s hard to disagree with him when he says Agbaji has to be among the top two or three players in the discussion for national player of the year. Agbaji has been an instrumental piece in so many recent wins for the Jayhawks. And even if more come, he’ll continue to remain as even-keel as he has been.
“That’s the way I am,” said Agbaji, who added this would have to be the best game he’s ever played. “That’s the way I’m just going to stay. I’m not going to be, like, over here gloating about it. I mean, it’s always — I’m always going to give the credit to my teammates because I wouldn’t have gotten any of those points without them. So, it’s always going to be on them. It’s just the person I am.”
What this means for the Big 12 regular season title race
Kansas is now through seven games in conference play, and there isn’t a significant separation between teams in the standings. There’s no telling if one game will be the difference between the Jayhawks and a team like Baylor at season’s end. There’s no telling if winning a game like this at home, will mean there’s less pressure on Kansas to have to win a game on the road later on.
Of course, there’s still No. 13 Kentucky coming up on Saturday. Self understands that’s a significant game, for the team and maybe even more so for the fans. But both Braun and Agbaji spoke postgame about how there isn’t a break coming up for the Jayhawks when it comes to their conference opponents, and beating Kentucky won’t directly help Kansas win the conference.
That means surviving against Texas Tech matters.
The next three games after Kentucky are on the road at No. 24 Iowa State, at home against No. 4 Baylor and on the road at No. 25 Texas. Then come two games at home against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, teams that gave Kansas tough games away from home earlier this season.
Remy Martin doesn’t play in either overtime period
Super-senior guard Remy Martin played 22 minutes off the bench for Kansas, the most of any non-starter for Self. He finished with four points on 2-for-7 shooting from the field, four rebounds and five assists with one turnover. But once he was subbed out of the game with about five minutes left in regulation, he never returned.
Martin watched from the bench as Kansas lost an eight-point lead and went to overtime. He watched as the Jayhawks looked as if they were on the brink of defeat, before Agbaji’s heroics. He watched as they sealed the victory in the second overtime.
Self was clear postgame as to why.
“I don’t want to be negative, but who would (Martin) go in for?” Self said. “So, I mean, we need to rebound the ball. So, I didn’t think it was a time that you play two little guards.”
Self kept Agbaji, Braun, redshirt sophomore guard Dajuan Harris Jr. and redshirt sophomore forward Jalen Wilson in the game through both overtimes. Senior forward David McCormack and Adams split most of the rest of the time, with super-senior guard Jalen Coleman-Lands appearing late in the first overtime for a quick stretch in a 3-point shooting situation.
Bryson Williams, again, gives Kansas issues defensively
Agbaji can still remember how well Bryson Williams, Texas Tech’s super-senior forward, played against Kansas last season when Williams played for UTEP. Agbaji, understandably, still remembers how well Williams played against the Jayhawks when the Red Raiders hosted them earlier this season. And in Allen Fieldhouse, Williams’ play offensively didn’t decline.
Williams found success against a number of Kansas defenders, and finished 14-for-19 from the field, 4-for-4 from behind the arc and 1-for-1 from the free-throw line. That amounted to 33 points, leading Texas Tech in that category by far.
“He’s a great player,” Agbaji said about Williams. “He’s a really good post-man, like really good around the basket, really good touch, and he can shoot the 3. So, he’s just a dangerous, complete player.”
Williams’ ability to hit shots helped make up for junior guard Terrence Shannon, Jr. and redshirt junior guard Kevin McCullar both struggling to do so. Neither of the latter played the last time these two teams met, but their additions to the lineup this time around didn’t come with significant point totals that Red Raiders fans might have anticipated.
Fans continue to show support for Bill Self
Since the death of Self’s father last week, there has been an outpouring of support on social media and elsewhere. On Monday, that continued. Not only was there a moment of silence to honor Self’s dad, but there was a sign in front of the student section on one end that read, “Just load the wagon.”
It’s part of a quote that Self has recalled his father telling him before. Self said he did not see the sign, but expressed appreciation for that and more.
“Everybody’s been so nice to us, and I know everybody goes through similar things and so many people have been through so much more that what I have or what my family has,” Self said. “But everybody's been so nice and we are very appreciative to all the well-wishes and the thoughts and prayers and I know my mom is overwhelmed by it. So, that’s very nice of everybody.”
Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: KU vs. TTU basketball goes into double OT, Kansas wins by 94-91 score