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Moments That Popped: No. 7 Kansas at No. 23 Iowa State

Jayhawks fight to the finish but suffer 3rd road loss in Big 12 play

6 min read
Kansas guard Kevin McCullar Jr. (15) drives to the rim during the Jayhawks' road loss at Iowa State on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024 in Ames, Iowa. [Kansas Athletics photo]

Ames, Iowa — The 7th-ranked Kansas men’s basketball team dropped another Big 12 game on the road on Saturday, 79-75 at always-tough Iowa State.

The Jayhawks surrendered 14 3-pointers to an Iowa State team not known for making them and got down by double-digits early in the second half, making the challenge even tougher the rest of the way.

KU was able to cut the ISU lead all the way down to two points in the final 2 minutes — with a blend of heart, heroics and all-out effort — but the Jayhawks could not erase the lead and came out on the wrong end of a couple of crucial possessions late, none bigger than a shot-clock-beating 3-pointer by Keshon Gilbert that put ISU up 77-72.

The loss drops Kansas to 16-4 overall and 4-3 in Big 12 play. The Jayhawks are in danger of falling out of the AP Top 10 for the first time in a few years.

Not that that matters much to anyone right now.

KU coach Bill Self and big man Hunter Dickinson said after the game that key from here was for Kansas to stay positive and not be discouraged by this latest loss, which came in a building that’s always tough to win in.

That said, the Jayhawks know that their margin for error is shrinking if they want to stay in the Big 12 race. Dickinson said there was talk after the game about the Big 12 champ likely having five losses. KU now has three, so, as Dickinson said, it’s time for Kansas to start stringing some wins together and finding a way to get a couple on the road.

The latter part of that challenge will have to wait, as the Jayhawks play twice at home next week.

KU will return home for a Tuesday night clash with Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse, before welcoming No. X Houston to Lawrence next Saturday for a huge national and Big 12 showdown.

Here’s a look back at some of the highlights and memorable moments from Saturday’s game in Ames.


• No quit whatsoever: The Kansas Jayhawks had no business being in the game late, yet there they were, down just two with around a minute to play and a chance. It didn’t go the way they hoped down the stretch — or for much of the game, really — but KU’s starting five gave everything they had just to be in that position. Three of the five played 38 minutes. Johnny Furphy played 35 minutes. And KJ Adams, who sat for the final 10 minutes of the first half, played 27+ and would’ve been out there the whole time if not for his early foul trouble. No one within the program will celebrate Kansas “having a chance,” but they deserve credit for getting it to that point with no bench and an uphill climb for the majority of the second half. The issue now is, how much longer can that starting five keep this up?

• Attack after beating pressure: This was a big key to the plan against that Iowa State defense and even though KU was able to do it a fair amount, it didn’t always work out the way they would’ve hoped. One of the most noticeable times it did came when KJ Adams picked up a rebound or loose ball and raced the other way, refusing to stop after getting to halfcourt. Instead, Adams kept his dribble alive, drove right into the paint and dunked over the two Iowa State guys who were on their heels instead of stepping up to stop Adams. This was a big part of the reason that Self said after the game that he thought KU played its best offensive game in a while. After sitting for the final 10:27 of the half, Adams’ fresh legs and energy — not to mention how much of a matchup nightmare he can be — really gave KU a lift in the early moments of the second half. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really KU’s offense that was the issue in this one.

• Iowa State fans troll Tang: During the first timeout of Saturday’s game, a pair of Iowa State fans who were seated behind the Kansas bench, stood up and got out their cell phones to give the appearance that they were recording the KU huddle. The move, which was repeated by others the rest of the day, likely was in response to Kansas State’s accusations of Iowa State placing staff members or managers behind the KSU bench and recording and relaying information about the timeout to the home team’s bench. KSU coach Jerome Tang was adamant and agitated after the ISU win in that game, but said nothing about it in his postgame meeting with the media. Reports, including one from The Messenger, which quoted ISU AD Jamie Pollard as saying “It absolutely did not happen,” have since indicated that there was nothing illegal or shady about anything that Tang was upset about.


• 3-point D: At one point, Iowa State had made 7 of 8 second-half 3-pointers, which helped the home team build a double-digit lead that proved to be too much for Kansas to overcome. While some of those 3-point makes were on the KU defense, several of them were on the fact that the Cyclones simply made shots. Many of them were shots the Jayhawks did not expect them to make, and Self said after the loss that the Jayhawks’ plan and scouting report for this one led to Iowa State getting more open looks — by some players — than people may have expected them to. In the end, it goes down as a 14-of-30 3-point shooting day for the home team and leaves Kansas looking for answers on how they can do a better job of preventing those types of shooting days from happening.

• Dickinson a little rushed down low: It was clear that KU’s plan — as it always is — was to pound the ball inside to big man Hunter Dickinson to see if he could get a few easy ones at the rim. As expected, Iowa State often doubled Dickinson on the catch, but whether that worked or didn’t, it appeared to at least speed up Dickinson’s process. He often caught the ball and went right up with it, trying to beat the double team rather than catching, waiting and making a strong move to the basket. Dickinson missed four of his first five shots as a result of the rush job and Dickinson righted the ship to some degree, finishing with 20 points on 9-of-18 shooting and 15 rebounds.

• Rough close to the 1st half: In addition to giving up a big bucket on a second-chance opportunity for the Cyclones, KU gave up a pair of free throws after head coach Bill Self was called for a technical foul for arguing the foul called on Parker Braun being changed from a common foul to a flagrant foul. ISU hit just two of the four free throws, but, as a result, the home team took a 4-point lead into halftime. In a game as low-scoring as this one was, which was played so tight most of the way, a 4-point lead was much bigger than it might otherwise seem or feel. KU nearly cut it to one, but Kevin McCullar’s 3-pointer to beat the buzzer misfired after a perfectly executed inbounds play from the sideline got him a great look. McCullar was just 3-for-13 from the floor in the first half. He finished the game 5-of-18 overall and with 5 of the Jayhawks' 12 turnovers.


• Higgins honored: Before Saturday’s game, Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard welcomed longtime NCAA referee John Higgins onto the court and presented to him what they called “a spe-cial award to honor his amazing career.” Higgins, as you may recall, officiated tons of KU and Big 12 games throughout his career, often drawing the ire of both KU fans and Big 12 fans everywhere for his calls, intensity and hair. It’s rare to see an official honored like this, but it came on a day when Higgins — obviously — was not officiating the game at hand. Higgins gave up his whistle in the offseason and was hired to become the Coordinator of Officials for the Western Basketball Officiat-ing Consortium, it was jointly announced today by the six leagues comprising the WBOC. In his new role, Higgins is be charged with recruiting, selecting, developing, evaluating and assigning officials for every men’s basketball game hosted by schools in the WBOC, which comprises the Big Sky, Big West, Mountain West, Pac-12, Western Athletic, and West Coast Conferences. Said Pollard on Twitter on Friday: “Excited we will be honoring retired bb official John Higgins prior to our game on Saturday. John was one of the best officials in the country and was the longest serving Big 12 official until his retirement.”

More from Saturday's road loss...

• Moments That Popped

• Notes & Numbers

• What was it, how did it happen, what does it mean?

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