KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Plenty of numbers on the statistics sheet Friday night painted a positive picture for Kansas.
The Jayhawks shot a season-best 60 percent from the floor, grabbed more rebounds and were good enough at the free-throw line.
But No. 10 Kansas’ 84-78 victory over Oregon State at the Sprint Center didn’t send the Jayhawks back to Lawrence in good spirits.
They had to sweat it out —survive, really — because there wasn’t enough clutch defense.
“We didn’t guard the ball,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
And that’s what he’ll take from this one. Let the fans chirp about Ben McLemore’s flying slam that brought down the house in the first half. And as was the case last week when he was chosen MVP of the CBE Classic, Travis Releford returned home to Kansas City with another big scoring game.
But the Jayhawks couldn’t come away with stops Friday, which allowed the Beavers to nearly sneak out with a victory.
“It’s early,” Releford said. “We’re still trying to figure out some things as a team.”
Like how to defend a hot shooter.
This time it was quick, diminutive guard Ahmad Starks, who too often got the ball in a comfortable shooting position or created enough working space for himself.
Starks knocked down seven three-pointers for most of his 25 points. His final one made it a 78-73 game with 1:26 remaining.
Three Kansas missed free throws later, the Jayhawks lead was down to 80-77.
McLemore stood at the line with 13.9 seconds to play.
“Coach asked me if I was going to make them,” McLemore said. “I said, “I got ‘em.’”
He did — both of them — giving him 21 points. Releford, who had made four straight free throws a minute earlier, had 20.
Once again, Kansas had difficulty dealing with prosperity.
The Jayhawks constructed a 14-point bulge in the first half, the run emphasized by McLemore’s dunk. He stole an outlet pass about 30 feet from the Kansas basket and a couple of dribbles later started his elevation. He slammed it home with authority bringing the announced crowd of 18,789 to its feet.
But moments later, after the margin had grown to 33-19, McLemore picked up his second foul. To the bench he went, and the lead plunged.
Self tried several combinations to shake things up, including bring Evan Manning into the game. Manning had logged one minute of one game prior to Friday. Now, he was asked to deliver a couple of minutes to get the Jayhawks to halftime.
The second half became a copy of the first, all the way down to the score — 42-39 for each half.
This time, Kansas built a 13-point lead, but getting just about anything it wanted inside. Releford and Jeff Withey were particularly active.
But back came Oregon State and after three straight empty Kansas possessions, the Beavers closed to 76-70 with 2:01 remaining. The pattern was eerily similar to Kansas’ previous game, against San Jose State, which used a 16-0 run to cut into a 24-point margin.
The Jayhawks played well with the lead a week earlier in the Sprint Center, in victories over Washington State and Saint Louis. But not Friday.
“We have to learn how to close teams out,” Releford said. “The season’s young.”
To Self, the learning process continues. He was especially irked when the Beavers went to the free throw line with a chance at a three-point play.
“We have to learn how to play smart,” he said. “I guarantee you we lead the country in (giving up) three-point plays, we foul so soft.
“But we did get a lot of easy shots, so you can’t blame it on our offense.”