LAWRENCE — In fending off Texas Tech, Kansas basketball earned its first victory this season in a one-possession game, improving to 1-2 in that category.
The Jayhawks’ head coach, however, wasn’t about to cartwheel into his postgame news conference on the high of coming out on the right end of a down-to-the-wire battle.
“Well, I look at it differently: It wasn’t a one-possession game. We made it a one-possession game,” Bill Self said. “I mean, we’re up eight with a minute and a half left and we made it a one-possession game. So I look at it a little bit differently than that.”
Devon Dotson scored 21 points, Marcus Garrett pitched in 15 and the No. 3-ranked Jayhawks survived a tough home test against Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse, 78-75. With the victory, KU remained one game back of first-place Baylor, which stayed undefeated in Big 12 play with its 68-52 home win over TCU on Saturday.
KU led its game from start to finish and at one point held a 15-point advantage, but the resilient Red Raiders cut that deficit to one in the final minute. That’s when sophomore Ochai Agbaji, who committed a costly turnover a minute prior, came up clutch, hitting both ends of a one-and-one with 17.3 seconds left.
Garrett notched the Jayhawks’ ninth and final block on a would-be response layup by the Red Raiders’ Jahmi’us Ramsey (26 points), and Ramsey missed a follow-up shot as the clock expired.
Still, Self left the court less than thrilled with KU’s end-of-game awareness.
“Our defensive execution was awful,” Self said. “We were switching everything the last two possessions and guys didn’t switch a slip. That’s what we practice on all the time. We didn’t slip to a ball screen and let (TJ) Holyfield make his last 3, that was Christian (Braun), I believe. I mean, those are things we’ve got to tighten up.”
Isaiah Moss had 12 points and Agbaji 11 to round out the double-figure scorers for KU.
The Jayhawks (18-3, 7-1 Big 12) raced out to a 15-point lead, saw that advantage trimmed to two and ultimately held a nine-point edge at the intermission.
KU scored the game’s first 10 points, and a Garrett layup delivered a 19-4 lead at the 13:25 mark. But the Red Raiders (13-8, 4-3) shook the slow start by taking care of the ball (three first-half turnovers), trimming the hole to 26-24 with 7:08 remaining on a five-point spurt from the leading scorer Ramsey.
But KU survived the counter-punch as well as foul trouble from senior center Udoka Azubuike (five points and eight rebounds in 16 minutes), who played just seven first-half minutes and sat for the final 10 minutes of the frame. Dotson, who scored a team-best 13 points in the opening period, hit a pair of free throws in the final seconds for a 44-35 lead at the break.
The teams traded figurative haymakers until the Red Raiders put together a 7-0 run — a Terrence Shannon layup, a Holyfield trey and a Kyler Edwards layup — to once again trim their deficit to two, 57-55, with 8:49 left. But KU then did the following on consecutive trips up and down the court: Dotson converted a layup, David McCormack blocked a shot, Agbaji drained a jumper, Agbaji blocked a shot and McCormack flushed a dunk on a Dotson lob to suddenly deliver to the Jayhawks an eight-point lead, 63-55.
Chris Beard took a timeout, but it didn’t stop his team's bleeding — Dotson picked Shannon’s pocket on the first possession out of the stoppage, and Braun swished a 3 to establish a double-digit lead, 66-55, with 6:49 remaining.
As was the story since tipoff, however, Texas Tech didn’t fold.
Threes on back-to-back possessions by Holyfield and Ramsey put the visitors within striking distance, 72-68, with 2:40 left, and after driving layups by Dotson and Garrett, another Holyfield 3 on Braun's mental lapse made the deficit 76-71 at the 1:38 mark. That conversion lifted the Red Raiders to a 7-for-12 second-half clip from beyond the arc.
A pair of Holyfield free throws after the Agbaji turnover made it a three-point game, Garrett followed with a missed layup, and Ramsey converted a quick one of his own to make it 76-75 with 26 seconds left. But Agbaji was true his free-throw tries with 14.3 seconds left, and Garrett sealed it with KU's ninth rejection.
Garrett’s block helped ensure the outcome, but the junior guard was only pressed into that situation because a teammate didn’t switch when he should’ve, another moment Self labeled as poor defensive execution in crunch time.
“Now there was one thing that was positive: They didn’t get off a 3. So that’s positive,” Self said. “But still yet, I could be wrong, but there’s 30 seconds left, 35 seconds left, whatever it was, and we’re switching a ball screen and we don’t and (Ramsey) just goes and makes a layup. After that, he got to his right hand but the reason he did is because we didn’t switch.”
Self said he didn't want to intentionally foul Texas Tech, which entered as the nation's 26th-ranked free-throw shooting team with a 76.5% conversion rate, on the Red Raiders' final possession.
“I wasn’t going to tell the guys to play defense for nine seconds and then foul under five,” Self explained. “I don’t think we’re mature enough to do that, and that’s not what we practice.”
Texas Tech, which in pregame warmups wore shirts honoring Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and former Red Raider standout Patrick Mahomes, also got 19 points from Holyfield.
KU’s season continues with a quick turnaround at home, with the Jayhawks playing host to Texas at 8 p.m. Monday. Self's squad downed the Longhorns 66-57 on Jan. 18 in Austin.
Before that rematch is the Super Bowl. While KU didn’t have plans to watch it as a team as of Saturday night — “I don’t know that the players really want to hang out with me for six hours (Sunday),” Self quipped — the head coach has indeed carved out time to watch it all unfold.
“I don’t know what we’ll do, but we’ll certainly plan on making it where there’s at least some form of a watch party,” Self said. “But I don’t know if it’ll be kind of what you guys define as a party.”