LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP)Christian Braun’s big game for Kansas against Kansas State last season was overshadowed by an ugly game-ending melee.
The Jayhawks were able to enjoy his sequel a little more.
Braun hit four 3-pointers and scored 18 points, half of them during an 18-3 charge midway through the second half, and the 23rd-ranked Jayhawks finally started to show some offensive moxie Tuesday night in a 74-51 victory over the Wildcats.
”Always feels good to beat Kansas State,” said Braun, who grew up in Burlington, Kansas. ”This one was a little different this year. We’re trying to get things turned around, trying to get going on the right track. Feels good to get a win.”
David McCormack also had 18 points and Ochai Agbaji added 15 for the Jayhawks (12-6, 6-4 Big 12), who dropped four of their previous five games, including a blowout loss at No. 11 Tennessee over the weekend.
”I thought we got good shots. I didn’t think we shot it well – I thought we took some quick ones – but I thought we moved the ball pretty well,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. ”Defensively, we tried hard for the most part. I thought we rebounded OK. It was much better and we still didn’t make shots, but it was still much better.”
Kansas improved to 200-94 against the Wildcats (5-14, 1-9), the most wins by any Division I school over another in men’s college hoops. The Jayhawks have won 15 consecutive games against their longtime rivals in Allen Fieldhouse.
Mike McGuirl scored 10 points for Kansas State, but was just 3 of 10 from the field and 1 for 6 from beyond the arc. Nijel Pack followed his 26-point outburst against Texas A&M with 10, and committed four turnovers in his Phog debut.
The result was the Wildcats’ ninth consecutive loss dating to Dec. 29. All but two have been by double figures.
”Every team struggles,” Pack said. ”I mean, we’re just going through that slump right now. We just have to put in more work. That’s the only thing you can do. You can’t control the uncontrollables. We just have to put in the work.”
Neither team was particularly pretty on offense in the first half. At least Kansas played a little defense.
The Jayhawks forced the scoring-challenged Wildcats into seven first-half turnovers, held them to just 2 of 9 from behind the 3-point line and forced Kansas State into more airballs (three) than they managed second-chance points (two).
”We’re not putting points up on the board,” McGuirl said. ”Our offense is not what it needs to be.”
The result was a 33-25 halftime margin that felt like twice that much.
It didn’t take long before it WAS that much.
Kansas held the Wildcats without a field goal for the first 5 minutes of the second half, then again for another 5-minute stretch. Those long slumps allowed the Jayhawks to put together one of their all-too-familiar runs, an 18-3 scoring binge midway through the second half that resulted in a 56-32 lead with 10 minutes to go.
Braun was the catalyst with back-to-back 3-pointers, but McCormack and Agbaji added dunks and Mitch Lightfoot made a couple of free throws as the Jayhawks’ offense got in sync – at least for a stretch – for the first time in weeks.
”It’s definitely encouraging,” McCormack said. ”A positivity booster. Gets us in the flow of the game, gets people touches they need to get back in their groove. It’s a game to get our feet wet, to get back to how we know how to do things.”
Kansas State finished with 13 turnovers, went 5 of 21 from 3-point range and couldn’t keep the bigger Jayhawks off the glass at either end of the floor. Sure, the Wildcats are starting three freshman and play a fourth off the bench, but the growing pains have been painfully obvious for coach Bruce Weber since the new year began.
Kansas only committed six turnovers and three of them came from Marcus Garrett, their primary ballhandler, who only played 24 minutes. That’s a good sign the Jayhawks are starting to execute better on the offensive end. The 74 points were their most since a 93-64 win over TCU on Jan. 6.
Kansas State heads home to play No. 13 Texas Tech on Saturday. Kansas visits West Virginia the same afternoon.
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