Energetic David McCormack sparks KU basketball in 63-59 victory over Oklahoma

Matt Galloway
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas basketball junior forward David McCormack celebrates after scoring a basket late in the second half of the No. 6-ranked Jayhawks' contest against Oklahoma at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence. McCormack scored a game-high 17 points in KU's 63-59 victory.

LAWRENCE — A player who often wears his emotions on his sleeve, David McCormack isn’t one to shy away from relishing the moment.

“I know he’s always going to have some kind of reaction after a bucket or after a big bucket,” said Ochai Agbaji, a fellow junior on the No. 6-ranked Kansas men's basketball team. “But that’s good. That’s just great energy for us moving (on) and trying to get a stop on defense.”

As Saturday further illustrated, post-bucket jubilation isn’t the only aspect of the suddenly clicking forward’s game that’s becoming quite reliable.

McCormack converted a pair of must-have field goals in crunch time, one to put the Jayhawks ahead for good and another to essentially ice the outcome, and KU escaped with a 63-59 victory over short-handed-yet-feisty Oklahoma at Allen Fieldhouse. The 6-foot-10, 250-pounder finished with a team-high 17 points on 8-for-14 shooting in 25 minutes for the Jayhawks, who captured a win in their first home contest since last Saturday’s historic 25-point blowout defeat to then-No. 8 Texas.

McCormack, who struggled to find his footing out of the gate this season, has now led KU in scoring in back-to-back contests with five double-figure point outputs in his last seven appearances.

“Glory to God, I’m playing with a free heart, a free mind," McCormack said. "Just doing what I can to help the team win. Playing with energy. That’s all I can say.”

KU (10-2, 4-1 Big 12) needed every ounce of McCormack’s energy against the Sooners.

After enduring an eight-plus-minute field goal drought earlier in the final period, the Jayhawks trailed by one, 57-56, following Austin Reaves’ pull-up jumper that put the visitors ahead with 2:41 remaining. But McCormack had a response with a nifty hook-shot conversion on KU’s subsequent possession, and after an empty trip for OU (6-4, 2-3), Jalen Wilson broke a game-long funk with a 3-point make that gave the Jayhawks a 61-57 edge.

McCormack then notched a steal, but Christian Braun missed a 3 on the other end, and OU’s Kur Kuath again made it a two-point game with a follow dunk with 37 seconds remaining. Out of a timeout, McCormack was true on a turnaround short jumper in the paint at the end of the shot clock, delivering a two-possession lead with just 10 seconds left.

McCormack's mindset ahead of that final bucket?

“ ‘We need to score,’ ” responded McCormack. “Coach drew up a play. We didn’t get the look we wanted to initially. As soon as Jalen swung it to, I believe it was, Christian in the corner, my first thought was to seal as deep as I can. I knew they were coming weak-side, so I tried to work middle and just get us a quick bucket.”

Reaves then misfired on a deep 3, and KU ran out the rest of the clock on the victory.

“They were both great plays,” KU coach Bill Self said of McCormack’s crunch-time conversions. “If you play right and play the way we want to play, I really believe that there’s a great chance that whoever is in there playing in the big spot is always an option, even if it may not be the first option, because you should always be able to throw it to your big.”

McCormack and senior forward Mitch Lightfoot combined for just one rebound, a bit of a wet blanket thrown on the former’s otherwise commendable afternoon. Still, McCormack “made two of the biggest plays of the game without question,” said Self, who added the junior was ready and alert at game-point.

“I thought he did well. I’m happy for him," Self said. "And certainly he came up big late.”

Agbaji (14 points) observed a McCormack that played “loose and relaxed” in the post, a far cry from the player who was benched at the outset of the second half in an ineffective 14-minute showing against the Longhorns.

“Just getting it into him more and just playing around him more I think will help our offense,” said Agbaji, “but I think our game plan going into this game (Saturday) specifically was to throw it in there and make their post guys guard and foul and just keep (McCormack) aggressive.”

Reaves had team-highs of 20 points and nine rebounds for the Sooners, who were without starting senior forward Brady Manek and reserve sophomore forward Jalen Hill. OU notched 11 steals and forced 16 turnovers, scoring 14 points off giveaways in the first half alone en route to a 33-31 lead at intermission.

Self said KU “absolutely stunk” in the first half, but the inverse was true in the game's final minutes.

“The thing I’ll take out of this more than anything is when we were down one (with 3:43 left), we actually executed and played pretty well down the stretch, which is obviously the most important time to play well,” Self said. “And Jalen (Wilson, nine points and 11 rebounds) kind of responded after a rough day in a big way.”

Up next for Self’s squad is a 7 p.m. Tuesday game against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla. While that contest undoubtedly now has KU’s full attention, at least one Jayhawk hasn’t forgotten about another matchup that in the not-so-distant future.

Yes, the countdown is on to 8 p.m. Feb. 22 — at Texas.

“Oh, (Saturday) was a great win for sure, but of course it’s all in the back of our minds still, avenging that loss,” McCormack said. “Can’t wait to go against ’em again.”

NO. 6 KANSAS 63, OKLAHOMA 59

Oklahoma (6-4, 2-3 Big 12)

Harmon 4-8 1-2 9, Reaves 7-14 4-4 20, Williams 4-13 0-0 9, Harkless 2-8 0-1 5, Kuath 3-8 1-2 8, Iwuakor 2-5 1-1 5, Gibson 1-4 0-0 3, Phipps 0-0 0-0 0, Issanza 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-60 7-10 59.

Kansas (10-2, 4-1 Big 12)

Garrett 3-6 1-2 7, Braun 2-7 0-0 5, Wilson 2-4 3-4 9, Agbaji 4-10 3-3 14, McCormack 8-14 1-3 17, Grant-Foster 0-1 0-0 0, Harris 0-0 0-0 0, Enaruna 1-2 2-4 4, Lightfoot 3-3 1-3 7. Totals 23-47 11-19 63.

Half — OU 33-31. 3-point goals — OU 6-20 (Reaves 2-7, Williams 1-2, Harkless 1-3, Kuath 1-3, Gibson 1-3, Harmon 0-2), KU 6-20 (Agbaji 3-7, Wilson 2-3, Braun 1-6, Grant-Foster 0-1, Enaruna 0-1, Garrett 0-2). Rebounds — OU 32 (Reaves 9), KU 35 (Wilson 11). Assists — OU 11 (Reaves 3), KU 13 (Garrett 4). Turnovers — OU 9 (Reaves 4), KU 16 (Wilson 7). Blocks — OU 3 (Kuath 2), KU 6 (McCormack 2). Steals — OU 10 (Harkless 3), KU 5 (Garrett 2). Total fouls — OU 17, KU 14. Fouled out — none. Technical fouls — none. Officials — Hartness, Wymer, Oglesby. Attendance — 2,500.