Kansas picked a bad night — Opening Night — to play one of the sloppiest games in school history.
The No. 3-ranked Jayhawks, under the bright lights of the Big Apple’s Madison Square Garden, committed an unsightly 28 turnovers in a 68-66 loss to No. 4-rated Duke on Tuesday at the season-opening Champions Classic.
“We had 28 turnovers and lost by (two) … to a really good team,” KU junior guard Marcus Garrett said after the Jayhawks’ second loss in a season-opener in the 17-year Bill Self era. KU lost 103-99 in overtime to Indiana on Nov. 11, 2017 at the Armed Forces Classic in Hawaii.
“We can take a lot from this knowing we were still in the game with 28 turnovers,” added Garrett, who scored 12 points with five assists, five rebounds and two turnovers.
The 28 turnovers were the most by a KU team in the Self era and most since the Jayhawks committed 29 turnovers against Colorado on Feb. 15, 1992.
The school record for turnovers is 30 against Xavier on March 18, 1988 in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“I think we played uncharacteristically. We got out of character,” KU coach Self said after Duke put an end to KU’s three-game winning streak over the Blue Devils and three-game overall win streak at the Champions Classic.
“We made easy plays difficult many times. A lot of that is nerves and the environment and guys wanting to do well so badly. We’ll take better care of the ball moving forward. But certainly it’s inexcusable to turn the ball over like that.”
KU sophomore Devon Dotson had six turnovers and one assist to go with his game-high 17 points.
Kansas wasn’t perfect in other areas Tuesday — the Jayhawks hit 4 of 9 threes (to Duke’s 8 of 24) and 16 of 26 free throws (to Duke’s 14 of 23) — but the turnovers had to have been the biggest reason for the Jayhawks’ initial loss of the season.
“We weren’t careful with the ball. I feel we were throwing passes anywhere,” Garrett said. “They were able to get their hands on it.”
KU had 18 turnovers the first half and trailed just 33-30 at the break.
“They were speeding us up. It’s something we can focus in on moving forward,” sophomore wing Ochai Agbaji said after scoring 15 points with five turnovers, six rebounds and four steals.
Duke, which was led by Tre Jones (15 points, seven assists, six rebounds), trailed KU by as many as nine points with 12 minutes to play.
The Jayhawks trailed by four points, 56-52 with 7:46 left following an 8-0 Duke run. However KU used a 6-0 run to lead 58-56 at 4:38. Matthew Hurt (11 points) followed with a three and the Devils led, 59-58, at 3:26.
Marcus Garrett tied it by hitting one of two free throws at 3:26. Dotson’s driving layup gave KU a 61-59 lead at 2:49. Cassius Stanley (13 points) tied it with a layup at 2:29. Fouled by Agbaji, Stanley hit a free throw at 2:29 and Duke led, 62-61.
Jones followed with a 15-footer that rolled in and Duke led, 64-61, at 1:33. Garrett hit a layup and Duke led 64-63, at 1:17. After another KU turnover Jones hit two more free throws and Duke led, 66-63, at :26.2.
David McCormack committed a big turnover with KU down one with under a minute left on a bounce pass to Azubuike that was picked off.
“I thought he had a shot, a 3-4 footer there. He tried to make the extra pass. That isn’t the percentage play,” Self said. “Dave did a good job tonight. He rebounded the ball well.”
McCormack had three turnovers.
“I think we were nervous with it.” he said. “It comes with the first game.”
KU missed two inside shots and Jones iced the game hitting two free throws to make it 68-63 at 4.2 seconds. Dotson banked in a last second three to account for the final score.
KU, which trailed by three points at halftime despite committing 18 turnovers to Duke’s nine, used an 14-0 run to turn a 37-32 deficit into a 46-37 lead with 15:51 left.
Garrett (12 points) started the run with a bucket immediately after picking up his third foul. Agbaji had a dunk and McCormack (13 rebounds, six points) an inside hoop to give KU a 38-37 lead. Azubuike dunked and Agbaji hit a three to give KU its six-point lead. Agbaji followed with another bucket and Dotson a free throw to finish the 14-0 surge.
However KU committed three turnovers and Duke rolled back on a 10-1 run. Stanley had two vicious dunks that tied the score at 47-47 with 11:34 left.
KU’s next game is at 8 p.m. Friday against UNC Greensboro at Allen Fieldhouse.
“This can be a learning experience,” Self said. “I don’t know that a game on Nov. 5 will count much in March. We can learn from this game and improve.”
Bryce Thompson, a 6-4 senior combo guard from Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School, will announce his college choice at 10 a.m., Nov. 12, he reported Tuesday on Twitter. Thompson has a final four of KU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and North Carolina. His father, Rod Thompson, played for UNC assistant Steve Robinson for two year at Tulsa, and then for a year under KU coach Bill Self. Thompson is the No. 19-ranked player in the recruiting Class of 2020 according to Rivals.com.
Kansas is 20-3 in its last 23 regular-season contests against top-10 ranked squads. KU is 40-21 against top 10 teams in the Self era. … Kansas is 4-5 in the Champions Classic, which includes a 2-1 record against Duke, 1-2 record against Michigan State and 1-2 mark vs. Kentucky. The Jayhawks had a three-game win streak in the Champions Classic snapped by Duke. … KU is 1-2 in games played at Madison Square Garden in the event. KU lost to Kentucky, 75-65, in 2011 and defeated Duke, 77-75, in 2016. … KU is 15-2 in season openers under head coach Bill Self. KU entered having won two straight openers since a loss to Indiana in Hawaii to open the 2016-17 season. … Kansas is 17-6 against teams ranked in the AP top five in the Bill Self era. … KU Kansas the all-time series against Duke, 8-5. … KU, Duke and Gonzaga are the only programs to have won 25 or more games in each of the last 12 seasons.