Defense sparks rally, Jayhawks win 69-55
Kansas played sloppy in first half, but defense took over.
By: Nathan Fordyce
With 16,300 people, Allen Fieldhouse holds more people than are enrolled at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. So how we’re the Mocs, who enroll just over 10,700 students, able to make it a game?
Simple. It was a family thing. The first half was like a mom telling her older son to let his younger brother win and for him not to be too rough on him.
The second half, well mom wasn’t looking and the older brother took it straight to the little brother with no remorse and he wasn’t going to let the little one dangle a fake victory over him for years to come.
The Kansas Jayhawks got outplayed in the first half by the smaller Chattanooga Mocs. But when the second half began, the defensive intensity started to pick up and the Jayhawks came alive.
“We didn’t have energy, so we looked flat defensively,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We weren’t mentally into it. The second half, that’s the best we played all year.”
Senior forward Travis Releford was the catalyst of the defense after halftime as Self decided to put him on the Mocs freshman guard Farad Cobb. Cobb was on fire in the first half as he went 6-of-7 from behind the arc for 18 points.
But once Releford was assigned the task of guarding him in the second half, Cobb managed just one made field goal. Putting Releford on Cobb changed the whole complexity of the game and it’s something Self said he should’ve done in the first place.
“The biggest difference was we learned something tonight as a staff, and we should’ve known it. But we’re better with Travis on the ball. We took Travis off the wing and allowed him to guard the point guard and left Elijah guard someone else,” Self said.
Releford wasn’t the only one who bought into the defensive intensity as the Jayhawks came out for the second half down 36-28, it was the entire team.
“Travis came out with all that energy and stopped [Cobb]. And after that, everyone became more confident on the defensive end,” senior center Jeff Withey said. “We didn’t want to be the guy who left our guy score. So we just challenged ourselves and that’s what we need to be doing from now on.”
In the second half, Withey had five blocks and seven rebounds as he and the rest of the Jayhawks held the Mocs to 6-of-25 shooting and forced 12 turnovers as they went on to win 69-55.
The defensive pressure by Kansas was something Chattanooga’s head coach John Shulman wasn’t afraid of expressing how great the Jayhawks are.
“Defensively they are phenomenal, you can’t get a look inside. There always in the passing lanes and Releford is putting gigantic heat on the ball. And that’s not a lot of fun offensively,” Shulman said.
Offensively, the Jayhawks came alive in the second half as well. Freshman Ben McLemore and Johnson combined for 25 of the team’s 41 points to help lead the charge as the Jayhawks shot 50 percent from the floor on 15-of-30 shooting. McLemore had a game-high 25 points with Johnson netting 18.
“And I think there was a point in time where we thought about each other rather than ourselves. At that point we just broke loose, and took off from there. We didn’t change our game plan, we just changed our intensity,” Johnson said.
The difference between the loss and what turned out to be a victory for the Jayhawks, was what Johnson called “Kansas basketball.”
“We had to play Kansas basketball and couldn’t end the game like that,” Johnson said. “Me, Kevin [Young], Jeff and Travis tried to put the team on our back and did what we needed to do to get the win.