Tyon Grant-Foster, KU basketball reject NDSU upset bid 65-61

Matt Galloway
Kansas junior guard Tyon Grant-Foster scores on a layup in the second half of Saturday's game against North Dakota State at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence. The Jayhawks won 65-61.

LAWRENCE — A 24½-point underdog in Saturday's game at Allen Fieldhouse, North Dakota State nevertheless pushed No. 7-ranked Kansas basketball to the brink.

A KU reserve rejected the Bison’s upset bid — in more ways than one.

Tyon Grant-Foster, a first-year Jayhawk who had just barely averaged double-figure minutes across the season’s first four games, played 22 off the bench in Game 5 and tallied 8 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals in his team’s 65-61 victory. The 6-foot-7, 190-pound former junior college standout was most brilliant in crunch time, scoring the go-ahead bucket and flying in for a game-sealing block in the final 90 seconds.

“Tyon was great, great, great down the stretch,” said KU coach Bill Self. “I was really happy for him because he hasn’t had many opportunities yet.”

KU (4-1) more than labored offensively in what was its fifth game in 10 days.

The Bison (0-4) held a one-point lead, 61-60, with 1:38 left to play. It was Grant-Foster who, out of that break in the action, put the home squad in front with the kind of hard-nosed layup that had proven elusive to that point for the Jayhawks — KU shot just 31% in a second half that saw North Dakota State block four shots.

“Special,” Self said of Grant-Foster’s one-on-one, go-ahead bucket.

“Really I just saw the gap there and I was like, Coach (Self) is always (saying), ‘Be aggressive,’ in the back of my head, so I was like, why not,” Grant-Foster said. “I mean, in practice I’m always aggressive too. I just saw an opening in there and I took it.”

Grant-Foster drew an offensive foul on the Bison’s next trip down the court, and the teams traded an empty possession apiece until Christian Braun’s pair of free throws put the Jayhawks up 64-61 with 29.3 seconds left. North Dakota State’s Sam Griesel got by Braun and into the paint on his team’s next possession, but that’s when Grant-Foster soared into the frame, emphatically rejecting the shot and sending the ball into the waiting arms of teammate Ochai Agbaji with 12 seconds remaining.

“I knew (Grisel) was going to shoot it,” Grant-Foster said. “Once he (made his move) I knew he wasn’t going to see me come and go because he had turned his back to me, so I knew he was going to think I was staying out there. And I love blocking shots, so I knew I was going to go get it.”

Agbaji converted a free throw to make it a two-possession game, and Jaxon Knotek and Jarius Cook missed 3s as time ran out on the Bison’s upset bid.

As he described Grant-Foster’s block from his vantage point, Agbaji smiled.

“I saw him come out of nowhere and the ball just got swatted out there,” Agbaji said. “It was a great play.”

Grant-Foster said he and Self had multiple conversations in the prior 48 hours where the pair discussed what the junior guard needs to do moving forward for an expanded role. Not-so-coincidentally, each of those goals — play hard, rebound, defend and don’t let the ball stick offensively — materialized Saturday.

“When I first got here I wasn’t really used to the defensive stuff they did, so me trying to learn everything on top of trying to play my game was just harder,” said Grant-Foster, who transferred to KU this past offseason from Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College. “So now me focusing on defense, it makes me even more comfortable in the game because I know if I do those things and I mess up on offense I’m still going to stay in the game.”

Jalen Wilson paced KU in both scoring (14 points) and rebounding (15), with the Jayhawks deploying their all-small lineup for the game's final 17 minutes. Agbaji had 13 points to round out the double-figure scorers for KU, which shot 38.7% from the floor and hit just 4 of 15 tries from beyond the arc.

“I thought we grinded great,” Self said. “I thought situationally we played really well down the stretch. I thought we competed hard. We hadn’t had a lot of guys making a lot of offensive plays but Jalen made a couple.”

Tyree Eady scored a team-high 14 points for the Bison, who were held without a made field goal across the final 4:55. North Dakota State missed its last nine shot attempts.

“It was good for us to go against a team that played that well,” Self said. “I bet you they scored 15 to 20 points in the last seven seconds of the shot clock and probably 12 to 15 with less than two to three seconds left on the shot clock. So our defense was pretty good; we just didn’t close out some possessions and they made some hard shots.”

KU will next welcome No. 9 Creighton — and, for the first time at Allen Fieldhouse this season, at least 2,500 fans — for a 4 p.m. Tuesday matchup. Before that, though, the Jayhawks allowed themselves to enjoy Saturday, both Grant-Foster’s big step forward and the avoidance of a once-in-a-decade-type home upset.

“There were some good things about the win today that we’ll look back (on),” Self said, “and probably be a much better team for it.”

Jalen Wilson, front, Chritian Braun and the Jayhawks were all smiles after defeating North Dakota State 65-61 in a highly contested game Saturday inside Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence.