Kansas combo guard Malik Newman scored just one point in 15 foul-plagued minutes Saturday night at TCU.
Still, the Jayhawks won 88-84 in a pivotal early-season game at Schollmaier Arena, perhaps changing the perception regarding the performance of the 6-foot-3 sophomore transfer from Mississippi State, who has scored in single figures in three of KU’s last four games.
“He’s a great player. Sometimes people have bad games. Sometimes people have good games. He played good today,” KU senior Svi Mykhailiuk said Saturday of Newman, who was 0 for 2 shooting (0 for 1 from three) but did convert one of two free throws with 4.5 seconds left, increasing an 87-84 lead to two possessions and in effect assuring the victory.
“He made the free throw and we won the game,” Mykhailiuk added after KU improved to 12-3 overall and 2-1 in the Big 12. TCU dropped to 13-2 and 1-2.
KU coach Bill Self addressed KU’s guard play after the game, noting the fact, “Malik is struggling. I think he scored one point late, a free throw late.”
Self added that “Lagerald (Vick, who scored eight points after nine in a loss to Texas Tech) had a bad week. “If we can get them going.”
He says it’s imperative all the guards “get going” as the Big 12 season progresses.
“I don’t think we can get much more out of Devonté (Graham, who had 28 points, six assists and three steals in 38 minutes),” Self said, adding, “Sam (Cunliffe, four points in 11 minutes) gave us some good minutes.
“We’ve got to get more out of those guys (Vick and Newman). A freshman (Marcus Garrett) gives you 33 minutes and is in there at crunch time. He will not score in bunches,” Self added of Garrett, who had four points and six rebounds with two assists in 33 minutes. “He has to be kind of a garbage guy for us. He did fine. We’ve got to keep Doke (Udoka Azubuike) on the floor and got to get Lagerald and Malik going.”
Center Azubuike had 14 points and one board Saturday in 13 foul-plagued minutes.
Self, of course, is not giving up hope for Newman, who for the season is averaging 9.9 points per game on 43.7 percent shooting. He’s made 21 of 61 threes for 34.4 percent and has 31 assists and 25 turnovers.
“We need Malik to play that position (backup point) or somebody to man that position for us,” said Self, who is concerned that he is overworking Graham, who came through again by hitting 13 of 15 free throws Saturday. “It may not (happen). This may be the hand we’re dealt and he (Graham) is dealt all year. We may have to play zone or do something to rest on defense or run a different offense where maybe he can rest on offense some. Naturally he’s worn out.”
Asked recently about Newman’s role in KU’s offense, Self said: “I think he fits in fine. He just hasn’t played near as well as what we know he’s capable of playing. Regardless of system, I think you’d still have the same issues. We need Malik to be offense for us. We need him. He doesn’t have to be great, but we need him to be an adequate defender, individual defender, a good team defender, that kind of stuff.
“I’d say Malik has not played as well as what he’s capable of playing. I think when guys are really concerned about playing to win, and I’m not saying our guys aren’t, but when you’re playing to win, you don’t worry about your shot. I think sometimes scorers get hung up on, ‘I’m not making shots.’ There’s a lot of ways you can play well without the ball going in the hole.”
Graham said he’s spoken to Newman about his perceived struggles.
“I talk to him every day, stay on him about being aggressive,” Graham said, “about not getting down on himself. If we miss a couple of shots, who cares? Coach just wants us to play hard. We talk about making sure we play every possession hard defensively because offense will take care of itself.”
Newman said after the Texas Tech loss Tuesday he felt that when shots of the guards aren’t falling, “we have to do a better job of getting in the paint and getting to the line. We definitely have to get tougher. It’s something we can correct the error, so that’s a good thing.”
Meanwhile, senior guard Mykhailiuk has been effective. He averages 16.5 points a game on the season and has made 51 of 110 threes for 46.4 percent.
Mykhailiuk, who had 20 points with six assists and four rebounds in 38 minutes against TCU, was elated the Jayhawks were able to bounce back after losing at home to Texas Tech.
“This means a lot,” Mykhailiuk said of Saturday’s victory. “After a home loss, we’ve got to go on the road and win games.”
The game was tied heading into the final TV timeout. KU won the last 3:27, 11-7.
“We still lost the rebounding (42-28). We’ve got to rebound better but we were short (with Azubuike having foul trouble). We’ve got to be tougher than anybody else and get stops on defense,” Mykhailiuk said.
Azubuike, who hit all six shot attempts and as 2 of 4 from the line, noted: “It (the victory) means a lot. Winning on the road, it’s all the stuff that Coach says: ‘It’s just us (on the road).’ Winning a game like this in this kind of atmosphere means a lot. It gives us momentum going into the next game.”
KU will next meet Iowa State at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Allen Fieldhouse.