KU basketball tasked with generating own energy inside eerily empty Allen Fieldhouse
LAWRENCE — There’s “no question,” acknowledged Bill Self, that Kansas basketball lacked energy in its razor-thin win Saturday over heavy underdog North Dakota State.
And, for perhaps the first time ever, blame for that lethargy can rightly be assigned to historic Allen Fieldhouse.
“I was going to say that I thought the parents in attendance and the coaches’ families in attendance did a terrible job making noise (Saturday),” Self quipped. “I say that as a joke because there’s only 100 people there.”
Fortunately for the Jayhawks, reinforcements are on the way — well, to an extent.
KU announced Saturday that it will allow up to 2,500 attendees inside Allen Fieldhouse for the next three home dates, beginning with a 4 p.m. Tuesday game versus No. 9 Creighton. That limited attendance policy will continue for a 6 p.m. Friday matchup against Omaha, a 1 p.m. Sunday contest against Tarleton State and all Jayhawk sporting events through at least Dec. 14.
Citing COVID-19 concerns, No. 7-ranked KU (4-1) played its first two home games, an 89-54 victory over Washburn on Dec. 3 and the 65-61 win over North Dakota State, in front of just a few dozen onlookers, a group made up almost entirely of player family members.
“I think having 2,500 people in the stands will make a difference,” Self said. “But yeah, it’s going to be harder to win at home and certainly easier to win away from home for everybody just because of the crowd situation.”
It’s easy to wonder how Saturday’s low-energy effort would’ve looked in a normal year.
A 24½-point favorite, KU came out of the gate sluggish and fell into an early 9-0 hole. When the Jayhawks rallied back, it notably came without the standard roaring approval of a sellout crowd, perhaps making it easier for the Bison to withstand the counterpunch. North Dakota State actually led by three, 61-58, with less than four minutes left in regulation.
The Jayhawks out-executed and out-talented the Bison in crunch time, but the following became obvious: Even with 2,500 fans, it’s likely KU will have to generate its own enthusiasm often across its final 12 home games.
“We’ve played a ton of games since I’ve been here just like (Saturday),” Self said. “For some reason when it gets kind of dull or your energy level is low or whatever, the crowd will do something to make a quick 5-0 run a 10-0 run or a 10-2 run just because you’re kind of playing off the energy and adrenaline. Of course we don’t have that right now.”
Allen Fieldhouse’s reputation as one of college basketball’s toughest places to play is less opinion and more universally acknowledged fact. Just ask first-year Jayhawk Tyon Grant-Foster, who has yet to play in front of the 16,300 but is certain how they would’ve reacted to his game-clinching block in Saturday’s final seconds.
“Oh, I think they would’ve went crazy,” Grant-Foster said. “Everybody would’ve been up.”
No rest for the weary
Saturday’s game also represented KU’s fifth in 10 days, and when Tuesday’s tilt wraps, the Jayhawks will have completed a staggering 22% of their regular-season schedule in less than two week’s time.
After the North Dakota State contest, junior guard Ochai Agbaji acknowledged fatigue may have played a role in that closer-than-anticipated final score.
“Tired, I could say that. Kind of the guys that were out there kind of felt worn out a little bit,” said Agbaji, who scored 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting in 36 minutes. “But you know, we have to keep pushing through.”
Self didn’t sense fatigue was a team-wide issue Saturday but noted there were “some individuals (who) were tired and played tired.”
“I thought Marcus (Garrett) played very tired, and of course I play him 36 minutes, so that’s not a smart thing to do. But I thought Marcus played tired,” Self said. “I don’t know that Och (Agbaji) is tired but certainly the fact that he played so many minutes, I think maybe his shot wasn’t quite there because of that.”
Redshirt freshman Jalen Wilson was the only other Jayhawk to eclipse the 30-minute mark against the Bison, once again anchoring the five-spot in the all-small lineup that the team deployed for the game’s final 17 minutes. Wilson finished with 14 points on 5-for-15 shooting but added a career-high 14 rebounds in 34 minutes.
“Jalen to me never plays tired. Jalen doesn’t. So those would be the primary ones. We’ve got to get CB (Christian Braun) going again,” Self said. “But I think that we were not near as quick to the ball and things like that, which is usually either not being ready to play or fatigue and I would probably blame it on fatigue as much as anything (Saturday).”
NO. 9 CREIGHTON AT NO. 7 KANSAS
Tipoff: 4 p.m. Tuesday, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence
Records: Creighton 3-0, Kansas 4-1
TV/radio (Topeka): ESPN/KWIC-FM (99.3)
Up next for KU: vs. Omaha, 6 p.m. Friday, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence