Kansas basketball coach Bill Self praised freshman guard Ochai Agbaji in front of the entire team after the Jayhawks’ 77-68 victory over TCU late Wednesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
“He just told him how proud he was of him. He said Ochai didn’t play good, he played great. Ochai really came out there and produced and gave us minutes and played exceptional for us,” KU junior forward Dedric Lawson said of Agbaji, a 6-foot-5 Oak Park High graduate who scored seven points on 3-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, two steals, one block and an assist in 25 minutes.
It was quite a regular-season, major-college debut for Agbaji, who had his redshirt status removed before the game in response to junior Udoka Azubuike’s season-ending hand injury.
“I thought he (Agbaji) did great,” Self reiterated on Thursday morning’s Big 12 coaches teleconference. “To see him act like he fits … and the poise. We played him down the stretch when we had to win.”
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Self said Thursday he “was so happy for him because he’s such a tremendous kid. I was also very pleased a guy put out there under those circumstances could respond in such a poised way. He only scored seven points, but he got four rebounds, kept numerous other balls alive that stole us some possessions. Obviously he’s one of our best athletes if not our best athlete. He can slide, so defensively he’ll be a huge addition as well.”
Agbaji’s first points as a Jayhawk came via slam dunk off a lob from Devon Dotson just 10 seconds after Agbaji first entered the game.
“I tried to set the best screen so he was going to be open. I’m glad he finished it,” Lawson said of the dunk that gave KU a 10-9 lead at 15:41.
Free throws a factor
KU’s Dedric Lawson attempted as many free throws (13) as TCU’s entire team on Wednesday night, a stat that did not go unnoticed by Horned Frogs’ coach Jamie Dixon.
KU hit 20 of 27 free throws to TCU’s 9 of 13.
“We had a lot of guys in foul trouble and they had 13 fouls while we had 18. They’re shooting those free throws and making them,” Dixon said.
The 6-foot-9 Lawson scored 31 points on 10-of-19 shooting. He hit 2 of 4 threes and 9 of 13 free throws for the Jayhawks (13-2, 2-1).
“He’s a good free throw shooter too, so that’s another problem as well,” Dixon said of Lawson. “Again, it’s not the first time he’s scored points. He can play. He’s old and experienced and they do a good job of getting him the ball.”
Dixon, whose No. 25-ranked Horned Frogs fell to 12-2 overall and 1-1 in the league, said the Jayhawks “killed us at the free throw line. They were 20 of 27 and that’s clearly a number that stands out as well. There’s a clear difference since they had 20 makes in 27 attempts and that doubles our attempts. They’re good.”
K.J. Lawson produces
K.J. Lawson scored seven points on 2-of-3 shooting. He was 3 of 3 from the free throw line and also had a rebound in 11 minutes.
“K.J. is kind of a 3 (small forward) and kind of a 4 (power forward) so if we are going to play small, you’d think it would make him more valuable because he can kind of do both,” Self said of Lawson, a 6-8 sophomore who averages 2.8 points, 2.0 rebounds and 8.5 minutes per game.
“I liked what I saw last night. I thought he played within himself. I thought he stole us a big possession on an offensive rebound and got an and-one. He could be a great ball mover, a good stationary shooter and steal us extra possessions in addition to that. I believe he could do all of those things and be effective. He just has to find his niche and certainly I thought last night was very encouraging,” Self added.
KU will next meet Baylor at 3 p.m. Saturday at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. The Jayhawks will face Texas at 8 p.m. Monday, at Allen Fieldhouse.