No. 1 Kansas fell to No. 4 Marquette, 73-59 in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational in Honolulu on Tuesday.
Kansas (4-1) led for just 22 seconds and was thoroughly out-hustled for most of the game by the scrappy Marquette defense and a free-flowing Golden Eagles’ offense.
The Jayhawks turned it over 18 times — 12 in the first half and 11 of them from Kevin McCullar and Hunter Dickinson — and shot just 9-of-16 at the free throw line.
The Jayhawks were outscored 46-26 in points in the paint and also saw Marquette’s bench outscore the struggling KU bench 27-15.
Bill Self’s squad never looked to be in sync all night and Marquette, which will play No. 2 Purdue in Wednesday’s title game, used its speed, athleticism and tenacity to suffocated Kansas from start to finish.
Next up, the Jayhawks will play No. 7 Tennessee at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN in the tournament’s third-place game.
Here’s a look back at some of the action from Tuesday’s Maui Invitational semifinals.
• McCullar’s run continues: He had his own issues in this one (most notably those 6 turnovers), but finding his offense wasn’t one of them. The super-senior’s stellar start to the season continued on Tuesday, with McCullar finishing with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting to go along with 8 rebounds and 3 assists in 37 minutes. It wasn’t just the point total that stood out but the way he went about getting those points. He drove to the rim, scored in transition, hit from the outside and created shots for himself. You’ve heard about it plenty during the past six months or so, but that’s exactly the jump that both Ochai Agbaji and Jalen Wilson made during their breakout, All-American seasons and McCullar appears to be very comfortable doing the same.
• Words exchanged: Nothing nasty went down and it was mostly just a bunch of jawing and pointing, something you rarely see at a tournament of this type. I’m not so sure it was the worst thing for the Jayhawks. Marquette took the fight right to Kansas and wanted to prove it was a worthy foe. The scoreboard showed that for much of the night, but watching the Jayhawks have to respond to that wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Remember in Chicago, when Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves got in Dajuan Harris Jr.’s face in the second half and then watched Harris turn into a killer to close the game? I thought this mix-up might’ve had a similar impact for the entire KU team. I was wrong. Marquette continued to keep the pressure on and the Jayhawks never really looked comfortable.
• McDowell belongs: He didn’t play a ton and there must be a reason for it. But in terms of his athleticism, effort and general demeanor, freshman guard Jamari McDowell sure looks like he could help this KU rotation. He hit a big 3-pointer on one possession in the first half — showing no fear in stepping up and letting it fly — and then put himself in position to make another play via an assist on a 3-point basket on KU’s next possession. Those possessions proved to matter very little in the big picture of Tuesday's loss, but they, along with a few other moments, showed that McDowell's blend of fearlessness along with size, skill and athleticism could be an asset for a KU squad looking for production beyond its two or three best players.
• Ball and body movement: You’ve heard Bill Self say those words countless times throughout the years, but boy were they big in this one. With Marquette continuing to guard right in the Jayhawks’ chests, one of the only ways KU found any success in this one was by cutting off the ball and forcing the defense to react. It worked a few times and led to easy buckets. But KU couldn’t stop turning it over to take advantage of it beyond that.
• Poise severely lacking: From the opening tip on, the Jayhawks really struggled with the defensive energy, effort and intensity that Marquette threw at them. It wasn’t just one or two players either. Even KU’s veterans played too sped up, looked frazzled and threw sloppy passes or made careless turnovers in the face of the MU defense, which originated from their head coach, Shaka Smart, sliding his feet on the bench as fast and ferociously as his players on the floor. The Jayhawks trailed by 10 at the break after coughing up 12 first-half turnovers in the face of that Marquette pressure and never put any real game pressure on the Golden Eagles in the second half. For a team that features so many veteran players who have been in a lot of big games, that was surprising to see. But it also underscored KU’s issues on the bench.
• More trouble for Timberlake: The senior transfer from Towson continued to struggle shooting the ball early on in this one, making just 1 of 5 shots all night. Timberlake even missed a pair of free throws and a layup before this one was over. It’s no secret that the new KU guard has struggled to make the jump defensively so far. And if that’s going to continue, he has to make shots or his minutes will be severely limited. Johnny Furphy was the first player off the bench for the Jayhawks in this one and even McDowell (see above) appears to be on the brink of moving past Timberlake in the rotation if the veteran transfer’s woes continue.
• What now?: At this point, KU appears to be a four-man team. And two of those four (maybe three if we’re being honest) didn’t play all that well or do much in the way of production in this one. So, what now? The Jayhawks are going to have to hope that Furphy and Elmarko Jackson can grow up quickly or it could be an interesting non-conference stretch early in the season. KU already took this one on the chin and the third-place game against Tennessee won’t be much, if any, easier. After that, KU will play UConn, Missouri and Indiana in three of its next five games. The Jayhawks do not appear to have a 5th starter. We’ve already addressed Timberlake’s issues. Jackson played just 21 minutes and was borderline non-existent and Furphy is still a little behind and so young to be ready for the role. But someone’s going to have to step up and grab it. Against this slate, that could be easier said than done.
• Dajuan Harris Jr.’s off night: The KU point guard has had so many spectacular games during his Kansas career. Some of them showed up in the scoring column and just as many came in more quiet fashion, where Harris dominated the game with defense, passing and vision. This wasn’t one of either and it probably ranks among the top two or three worst games of Harris’ college career. He finished the night with 4 points on 2-of-8 shooting with 3 assists and 2 turnovers in 36 minutes. The fact that this dud came in a showdown with Marquette’s Tyler Kolek had to be disappointing for Harris, given that many have called Kolek the best point guard in the country. He certainly was the better of the two in this one as Harris struggled in ways we’ve rarely seen.
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