University of Kansas

Kansas hopes for improvement on road in Big Monday contest at TCU

Kansas coach Bill Self had high praise for Mitch Lightfoot after the Jayhawks took care of business on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. KU beat Oklahoma State, 84-72.
Kansas coach Bill Self had high praise for Mitch Lightfoot after the Jayhawks took care of business on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. KU beat Oklahoma State, 84-72.

Just two Big 12 Conference basketball teams — Kansas and TCU — have won all of their league home games so far this season.

The Jayhawks, 6-0 following Saturday’s 84-72 victory over Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse, travel to TCU’s Schollmaier Arena on Monday — an 8,500-seat structure in Fort Worth, Texas, in which the Horned Frogs have won four conference games in as many tries.

But the Jayhawks enter the 8 p.m. Big Monday contest 1-6 in true road games this season, 1-4 in league road contests. TCU is 11-1 in all games at home in 2018-19.

“We need to carry this feeling over to Monday. It feels good to get this win,” KU junior forward Mitch Lightfoot said after the victory over OSU. “We’ve got to learn from this. If we can continue playing with energy I think we’ll play good basketball. I like playing there. I have a bunch of friends who go to TCU,” the 6-foot-8 Gilbert, Ariz., native added.

KU’s performance on the road this season has put in jeopardy a 15th-straight league regular-season title. Kansas State currently leads the league with an 8-2 record. The Wildcats are followed by KU, Texas Tech, Iowa State (all 7-4), Baylor (6-4), Texas (6-5), TCU (5-5), Oklahoma (3-8), Oklahoma State (2-8) and West Virginia (2-9).

“I think people make a big deal out of things. If you are equating success strictly to winning, there are a lot of things you have to do. To have a chance to win (Monday), we have to be tougher and more together and have positive energy, which we had today,” KU coach Bill Self said after the OSU game. “(We were) Much, much better. We had positive energy against Iowa State (in 80-76 home victory on Jan. 21). We did not have any in Manhattan (against K-State in 74-67 loss Tuesday). We have to go down there (to TCU) with a purpose and a focus. People talk about running plays and all that. It doesn’t matter what you run as long as you have energy and passion. It’s contagious. I think we have some guys out there we can feed off of.”

TCU will enter the game witih a 17-6 overall record; KU a near-identical 18-6 mark. The Horned Frogs have claimed home wins over Baylor, 85-81; West Virginia, 98-67; Texas, 65-61; and Oklahoma State, 70-68.

“It’s definitely easier here,” KU sophomore guard Charlie Moore said of Allen Fieldhouse, where KU is 14-0 this season and 6-0 in Big 12 games. “We’ve got the fans behind us. On the road … it takes everybody sticking together, tight huddles, getting everybody involved.”

The Jayhawks scored their most points this season in a Big 12 game Saturday at home versus Oklahoma State. Sparked by Dedric Lawson (25 points) and Ochai Agbaji (23), KU scored 36 points the first half; 48 the second.

KU has fizzled in many road games, scoring in the 60s in losses at Kansas State, Texas, Kentucky, West Virginia and Iowa State. KU won at Baylor, 73-68, and fell at Arizona State, 80-76.

“We have to provide more leadership for young guys in environments when it gets loud,” said junior forward Dedric Lawson, who leads KU in scoring (19.6 ppg) and rebounding (10.6). Things can be fixed. It’s not too late. It’s only February. We have a lot more games to fix it (road performance).”

KU freshman Agbaji, who was joined by three other freshmen (Quentin Grimes, Devon Dotson, David McCormack) in the starting lineup Saturday, said KU has the ability to win on the road.

“We need to stay together, keep our composure. We have to play our game,” Agbaji said.

Agbaji, whose redshirt was lifted before the KU-TCU game on Jan. 9 at Allen Fieldhouse, scored seven points and grabbed four rebounds while playing 25 minutes in the Jayhawks’ 77-68 victory over the Horned Frogs.

Agbaji, who entered four minutes into the game, caught an alley-oop pass from Dotson and dunked to ignite the fieldhouse crowd and give the Jayhawks a 10-9 lead.

“Coach wants me to play to my athletic ability,” said Agbaji, who has averaged 9.9 points and 4.8 rebounds in 10 games. He’s averaging 25.1 minutes a game. “When I go in there, he wants me to do what I do, get rebounds, hustle, all that.

“I try to bring anything I can to the table when I get in. It always starts defensively for me, steals, deflections, rebounds,” Agbaji added.

He provided a spark off the bench against TCU — a game dominated by the 6-foot-9 Lawson, who scored 31 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.

Lagerald Vick, who has headed home to Memphis on an indefinite leave of absence from the KU team, had 12 points with four assists, six turnovers in the first meeting.

Guarded by Dotson and Marcus Garrett, TCU’s all-time assist leader, Alex Robinson, scored 12 points on 4-for-12 shooting. He had four assists against four turnovers.

“He is a great player,” Dotson said of Robinson, a 6-1 senior from Fort Worth. “We’ve got to keep him in front, keep him out of the lane. It should be a fun game. I love challenges and am looking forward to taking on the challenge. He’s really good.”

Five of the seven Horned Frogs who played in the KU-TCU game scored in double figures: RJ Nembhard had 14 points, Desmond Bane 13, Kevin Samuel 12 and Kouat Noi 10. JD Miller had nine rebounds and Samuel eight.

“I know what a good passer he is,” KU sophomore Garrett, who is listed as doubtful because of a sprained ankle (the target date for his return is Saturday versus West Virginia) said of Robinson. “He’s a pro when he gets by his man. I tried to keep in front of him with high hands and make him make hard passes.”

TCU committed 20 turnovers in that first game to KU’s 12. The Jayhawks now return to the road where they’ve had big-time turnover problems with 24 at Iowa State, 23 at Kansas State and 18 at West Virginia.

“I mean, the ball was sticking. We haven’t seen pressure like that yet this year and we had 20 turnovers. We were loose with the ball, careless with the ball. There’s no answer for it. We were not taking care of the basketball,” TCU’s Bane said of the turnovers versus KU.

KU, which outscored TCU, 40-31 the first half (the teams played to a 37-37 tie the final 20 minutes), hit 20 of 27 free throws to the Horned Frogs’ 9 of 13.

“They killed us at the free throw line,” TCU coach Jamie Dixon said after the game. “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. We prepared for him (Lawson) and double-teamed and he still had 31 points, so I’m not sure that’s a good sign. 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. He’s a good free throw shooter too, so that’s another problem as well. 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.”

Of the first meeting, KU’s Self said Saturday: “We won the game. It was a tough game. We’ve got to do a great job there. It will be a hard matchup for us. The biggest thing is we need to go play with some toughness which is not something we’ve consistently done.

“Starting four freshmen out there, maybe you are not supposed to play with as much toughness. The situation definitely calls for us to become that if we want to be successful.”

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Gary Bedore covers all aspects of Kansas basketball for The Star — the current team as well as former players and coaches and recruiting. He attended KU and was born and raised in Chicago, as well as Lisle, Ill.