Perhaps Kansas’ basketball players lost interest in playing a third exhibition game — one more than usual — this unusually long preseason.
Or maybe the Jayhawks simply had some flaws exposed in a closer than expected 86-57 victory over Fort Hays State on Tuesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
“I didn’t think we were very good — no energy, flat the first half. Defensively we were bad. I thought they outscrapped us,” KU coach Bill Self said, willing to offer several reasons for a close call — KU led by just five points at halftime — against the NCAA Division II Tigers.
“The reality is,” Self said, after a game in which Devonté Graham scored 27 points on 6-of-10 three-point shooting and everybody else was 3 of 21 combined, “when you’ve got a couple of guys who are supposed to be two of your better players that don’t compete and others who don’t understand ball movement and where to be, you are going to look bad.”
The players Self singled out were Svi Mykhailiuk (eight points, 4-of-13 shooting, 0 for 7 from three with eight rebounds) and Malik Newman (eight points, 3-of-9 shooting, 2 of 6 threes), who started the game but not the second half.
They did not enter the final stanza until 12:33 and 12:49, respectively, after combining for just seven points with one assist against five turnovers in the initial half.
Walk-on Clay Young entered as a reserve in the second half a few minutes before Self called on Mykhailiuk and Newman.
“I didn’t think Svi or Malik deserved to be out there, to be honest with you,” Self said.
“We’ve got some issues guarding the ball. They just go around Malik and Svi too much and Billy (Preston, 11 points) and Mitch (Lightfoot, no points, three rebounds, 16 minutes). That’s four of our eight guys they just attack them off the bounce. We’ve got to do a better job guarding the ball.
“I was disappointed in their effort,” Self added of Newman and Mykhailiuk. “We didn’t start them the second half. We wanted to play Marcus (Garrett, seven boards, three points, 23 minutes) to give us energy. Marcus made four plays the first two minutes that Svi and Malik either don’t make or can’t make from an activity standpoint. I thought it was good for those two to see Marcus out there doing that.
“If you are making shots that can cover up a lot of things. Svi and Malik are both good shooters, but when you are not making shots and you don’t give us any activity, there’s absolutely no reason to play. I think they got the message.”
The Jayhawks, who defeated Missouri 93-87 on Oct. 22 at the Sprint Center and Pittsburg State 100-54 on Oct. 31 at Allen Fieldhouse, actually trailed the Tigers 29-28 with 3 1/2 minutes left in the first half before managing to edge ahead, 38-33, by intermission.
Graham had 16 points in the final half. Udoka Azubuike contributed 15 points and nine rebounds, while Lagerald Vick had 12 points for the Jayhawks, who will will open for real against Tennessee State of the Ohio Valley Conference at 8 p.m. Friday at Allen Fieldhouse.
“We just didn’t come out with energy,” said senior guard Graham. “We came out really flat. That was basically it. Coach got on us a little bit at halftime about our lack of effort and energy. He was completely right and we know we have to start out better.
“I’m just glad we got it over with,” Graham added of the preseason. “Now we know how we have to come out and how we have to start games in order to be successful.”
Fort Hays State was led by Hays, Kan., native Brady Werth, who scored 14 points and Plainville, Kan., native Hadley Gillum, who had 12 points the first half and also 14 for the game.
KU, which hit 48.3 percent of its shots the first half and 51.6 percent overall (Fort Hays State hit 34.9 percent of its shots and 9 of 29 threes) finally opened a healthy 14-point lead at 54-40 seven minutes into the second half courtesy of a 16-5 run sparked by Preston, who scored eight straight points. Preston and Garrett started the half in place of Newman and Mykhailiuk.
KU did dominate the final half (48-24) using a 16-5 run that stretched to 33-11, to finally open a 71-46 lead down the stretch.
“The biggest thing,” Self said of the game, “is how many times they (Tigers) put the ball down and just beat us. They are crafty and we’ll probably play some guys like that who are just as crafty and maybe even more athletic and we can’t keep the ball in front of us. Certainly we looked bad many possessions but we played better in the second half. Devonté got us going and without question the player defensively who keyed our spurt was Marcus Garrett.”
Self continued his praise of Dallas native Garrett, who hit just 1 of 4 shots but had three steals and seven boards in his 23 minutes. He had two steals early in the second half.
“Marcus Garrett did things neither one of them (Mykhailiuk, Newman) right now can do,” Self said. “You don’t play with activity and that is our whole thing with Svi and Malik is to play with activity. You don’t play with activity and people minus Devonté go 3-for-21 (from three). That is a formula to get your (behind) handed to you.
“It was a good learning experience. It was good we played poorly to be honest, to start the season, so we can get our guys’ attention in the next couple of days.”
Mykhailiuk, by the way, was poked in the eye in the final minute of play. Self said Mykhailiuk was “fine.”