LAWRENCE — Kansas basketball’s sharpest weapon from 3-point range appears ready to be fully wielded.
Isaiah Moss, the No. 5-ranked Jayhawks’ sharpshooting senior guard, scored a game-high 21 points in just 15 minutes off the bench in KU's emphatic 112-57 victory over Monmouth on Friday night at Allen Fieldhouse. A graduate transfer from Iowa, Moss finished 5 for 6 from beyond the arc, including a 4-for-4 start from 3.
Moss, who has been fighting through a lingering hamstring injury, missed his team's season-opening defeat to Duke but played 25 minutes in its home opener, a 74-62 victory over UNC Greensboro on Nov. 8. In perhaps the most encouraging sign in Friday's game, Moss was on the last lineup mainstays pulled from the lopsided contest, checking out for good with 4:42 to play.
“Everybody could’ve played more minutes tonight, and (Moss) certainly could’ve,” KU coach Bill Self said. “He’s a good shooter. We’ve said that all along. He got, like, six really good looks, and that’s not going to happen in a lot of games. But it’s good to have him out there because you can run bad offense and come away with three points.
“Certainly we shot it good as a team tonight, but yeah, nobody shot it near like him. He was terrific.”
It’s been a frustrating road to recovery for Moss.
He injured his right hamstring diving for a loose ball at a practice near the start of the Jayhawks’ fall camp, forced to sit out the team’s Late Night in the Phog intrasquad scrimmage on Oct. 4. Then, right before the start of KU’s exhibition slate, Moss aggravated the injury in an eerily similar fashion — diving for a loose ball at practice.
Moss acknowledged it was hard to keep his chin up after the setback.
“It was super frustrating because at that point I was pretty much almost myself again, and then that happened,” Moss recalled. “But like I said, that was kind of a while ago. I’m just happy I’m feeling better and getting better every day.”
Moss could’ve played in the 68-66 defeat to the Blue Devils on Nov. 5 in New York, but the team wanted to exercise caution given the high risk of reinjury with hamstring issues. Also, his participation in practices had been limited at best, so the idea of throwing Moss into the fire without full familiarity with the team’s approach wasn’t appealing to Self.
Still, watching the 28-turnover performance from the bench isn't a pleasant memory for the 6-foot-5, 208-pound guard.
“Yeah, that was tough, especially because we lost that game,” Moss said. “I feel like we should’ve won that with or without me, but you know, that was tough, but we learned from it.”
Moss’ recent days have been packed with multiple treatment sessions, which include hamstring-specific stretches, exercises and massages. He credited that approach for his performance Friday, which, outside of heavy taping, showed no signs of his previous ailment.
“I feel fine. I’ve been feeling fine,” Moss said. “... It seems like every day I’m getting better and better, so I’m just going to keep working.”
Another standout off the KU bench, sophomore forward David McCormack (17 points, 11 rebounds), indicated Moss’ exploits from 3-point range could be key in unlocking success inside for the Jayhawks’ two-big lineups.
“Makes everything so much easier,” McCormack said. “I mean, when he shoots people have to close out to him, and when they close out it stretches the floor. It gives us the paint and more space to work and do what we do.”
Self concurred, adding another area in which the 39.8% career 3-point shooter could make an impact.
“I think that he can stretch the defense to allow big guys to have more space inside. So yeah, he’s important. He’s important,” Self said. “I do believe, although we’ve been pretty effective against the zone so far in the few possessions teams have zoned us, but I know we’re going to see a lot more of that moving forward.”
McCormack came off the bench for the first time this season, but it didn’t affect his productivity — the 6-10, 265-pounder recorded his double-double in just 16 minutes, throwing in a blocked shot for good measure.
Self believed McCormack’s effort level wasn’t happenstance.
“I do think this: I think he was probably a little bit more turned up because he was probably not very happy that he was coming off the bench,” Self said. “He didn’t say that, but he tried to block every shot and he looked more explosive every play. So whatever motivates him to be more explosive is good.
“I haven’t made a decision obviously (on) what we’re going to do long-term, but Silvio (De Sousa) deserved a chance to get out there first.”