LAWRENCE — Ochai Agbaji actually didn’t dread this particular film session.
Agbaji, whose No. 3-ranked Kansas basketball squad committed 28 turnovers in its 68-66 season-opening defeat Tuesday to No. 4 Duke at Madison Square Garden in New York, was instead eager to rewatch the sloppy affair. He was curious to know what exactly went wrong for the Jayhawks (0-1) in the high-profile setback.
“It already happened, so what else could you do about it?” the sophomore guard said Thursday, one day after reviewing tape of the defeat with teammates and coaches. “Learn from your mistakes, is how I saw it.”
So what stood out?
For starters, Agbaji cited poor decision-making, particularly in crunch time, as well as defensive miscues as two of the biggest areas in need of correction ahead of the Jayhawks’ next contest, an 8 p.m. Friday tilt with UNC Greensboro at Allen Fieldhouse.
“A lot of learning. A lot of stuff that we picked up from that,” Agbaji said. “A lot of positives. Negatives, too. But we’re moving past that. I’m just ready for Friday, ready to get going back on track again.”
Freshman guard Tristan Enaruna, who played 16 minutes in his collegiate debut, said the Blue Devils’ pressure defense, the atmosphere created by the stage and "The World’s Most Famous Arena,” and simple first-game jitters all had a hand in the Jayhawks’ unsightly turnover total, which came just two shy of tying a program record.
“Obviously it’s a new group of guys and it’s the first real season game, so I think all of those factors played a role in it. Like I said, first game, things like that can happen,” Enaruna said. “I think it’s something we can learn from that we actually are going to learn from because it’s just not the way we play, it’s not the way we’ve been practicing.
“I’m not really worried about it happening again or anything like that. We’re not going to think about it anymore. We’re going to just keep going. We’ve got another game coming up (Friday), so we’ve got to lock in again.”
Agbaji said the turnovers were rooted more in what KU didn't do than what the Blue Devils did, adding that the Jayhawks need to connect on easy passes, feed the ball forward earlier in transition and get rid of it before traps arrive. Bigs and guards alike, he said, shared blame for what unfolded.
“There’s no defense in America that can force 28 turnovers. You’ve got to help them to do that,” KU coach Bill Self said. “But they did force their fair share, and then we got sped up and we contributed to it, as well. We were awful in transition offense, and those were opportunities we had to put points on the board. But if you go back and watch the tape, Duke’s best offense was our offense, and usually when we don’t play well, that’s a big reason why. But that’s a credit to them, as well.”
The team’s lack of a 3-point threat — KU connected on four of just nine attempts from beyond the arc — also stood out in both the box score and on tape, but that's a problem injured senior guard Isaiah Moss (hamstring) could help solve upon his return.
Moss is questionable for Friday’s contest.
“We as a staff, myself primarily, we could’ve done more things to help them, I think, than what we did,” Self said. “The floor seemed awful congested. I mean, it seemed awful congested. You’ve got big guys that just naturally just run to the block and you can’t play that way as much. Of course, we worked a lot on it, but we didn’t handle their traps, even though they were delayed traps.”
Enaruna noticed the same.
“We’ve seen the past couple games that we throw the game inside, they’re really collapsing,” Enaruna said. “So we know that it’s very important to knock down those outside shots. That’s why we’ve been working on it more and more too. I think we’re getting better at it too. I don’t think it will be a really big problem throughout the season, that we’ll miss those types of shots. I think we’ll get good at it.”
Self’s message to his players after defeat in what he labeled a “coin-flip game” struck both optimistic and realistic tones: “I hate to tell you, but we weren’t going to go undefeated,” he said.
His message Thursday?
“We’ve lost in this (Champions Classic) game five times now, and you hate to lose in this game because obviously of the height that surrounds it and the Michigan State, Kentucky or Duke that you get a chance to play, and it obviously means a lot,” Self said. “But I said before the game, whatever happens in this game isn’t going to have anything to do with what happens in March. It could be better for us, it remains to be seen if it is, that we actually find out some real things about us through a loss that are sometimes camouflaged, that still exist, through winning.”