LAWRENCE, Kan. — Senior center Jeff Withey scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead No. 3/2 Kansas over Oklahoma 67-54 in the teams’ first meeting of the season Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse.
Collecting their 17th-straight win in style, Jayhawks’ head coach Bill Self, Oklahoma’s head coach Lon Kruger and their respective staffs sported tennis shoes in honor of the annual Suits and Sneakers contest promoting cancer awareness and is sponsored by the NABC’s Coaches vs. Cancer program.
In another matchup of the Big 12’s first and second-place teams, Kansas (18-1, 6-0) held Oklahoma (13-5, 4-2), who came into Saturday’s matchup tied for second place in the conference standings, to just 54 points and 35.6 percent shooting from the floor. Prior to the weekend meeting, Oklahoma was first in the Big 12 in scoring offense in conference-only games with 71.6 points per game.
Redshirt freshman guard Ben McLemore notched 18 points to lead all scorers, while senior guard Travis Releford’s 10 points made him the third of just three Jayhawks in double figures. McLemore’s timely three-point shooting helped keep the Sooners at bay for much of the game, as his three makes in five attempts provided extra space when needed.
For the Sooners, junior forward Amath and senior forward Romero Osby led the team with 12 points apiece. Senior guard Steven Pledger also added double-figures with 10 points, while no one on the team tallied more than two assists.
Although Kansas never found the rhythm to bust the game open, its lead was rarely in doubt due in large part to the defensive play of Withey who returned to his block partying ways after his first game without a block in 28 contests. The Defensive Player of the Year candidate notched four blocks against the Sooners, all of which came in the first half, to go along with three steals. The four blocks give Withey sole possession of third place on the Kansas career block list with 247.
With 6:59 to play, Releford blocked a Buddy Hield fast break attempt that led to a Withey dunk and also a Kansas run capped by another Withey dunk, but the Sooners would not go away as Oklahoma scored five-straight points to close a 15-point Kansas advantage to 10. Oklahoma would never get closer than eight the rest of the way, but Kansas could never push its lead past 15.
After trailing 5-2 early in the game, the Jayhawks took the lead for good with a 14-4 run over 4:34 with five straight points coming from McLemore including three free throws after being fouled on a three point attempt.
Senior guard Elijah Johnson, who finished with eight points and two assists, was held scoreless and without an assist in the first half. It was the first time Johnson had failed to score or tally an assist in a half this season before he turned it around in the final frame.
A steal and dunk by senior forward Kevin Young with 7:23 to play in the first half energized the Fieldhouse crowd and ended an almost three minute Kansas field goal drought. Young finished his day with a career-high three steals, while the Jayhawks used his added energy spike to finish the half with a 29-21 lead.
Kansas will play its second of four ESPN Big Monday's at West Virginia on Jan. 28 at 8 p.m. (Central). The Jayhawks return home to host Oklahoma State on Saturday, Feb. 2, at 3 p.m. on the Big 12 Television Network.