LAWRENCE — The most encouraging development from top-ranked Kansas basketball’s 89-53 victory Tuesday night over South Dakota isn’t exactly one Bill Self believes is fully sustainable.
That doesn’t mean the Jayhawks’ coach isn’t hopeful what unfolded could serve as a step in the right direction.
KU (10-0) got 40 points from its bench, far and away the most in any game this season, in its victory over the Coyotes. The previous high mark, a 17-point output against Tennessee, came in an overtime clash, and the Jayhawks were playing on the heels of a four-point bench showing in their 74-71 victory over Villanova last Saturday.
Self’s squad averaged just 12.7 bench points per contest entering Tuesday’s game.
“Stats are so screwed up,” Self said when asked whether the 40-point bench showing is a realistic expectation moving forward. “I think it’s very realistic if your starters play 25, 27 minutes. If the starters play 35 minutes, I don’t think that’s realistic at all. I don’t think we’re going to have many games where two guys off the bench get 30 (combined points), but I do think there’s capabilities of us scoring at a rate much higher than what we have been, I agree with that.”
As Self alluded, the Jayhawks’ charge off the bench Tuesday was led primarily by two players -- sophomore guard Charlie Moore and freshman forward David McCormack.
Moore, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound transfer from Cal, scored a team-high 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting from 3-point range in 21 minutes, while McCormack, a 6-10, 265-pound former McDonald’s All-American, pitched in 12 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in 17 minutes.
A 21 1/2 -point favorite against the Coyotes (6-6), the Jayhawks certainly had an opportunity to empty the bench in the contest. Still, the 36-point victory wouldn’t have been possible without the team’s reserves, who scored 20 in the Jayhawks’ decisive 31-6 run in the game’s final 10 minutes.
“We needed it. Our starters weren’t very good at all, for at least the first half,” Self said. “... The second half there was no question we were at our best when David and Charlie were both in the game. It was good to see those guys step up.”
Despite his most recent showing, McCormack is still averaging just 5.4 minutes, appearing in just one first-half minute in the Villanova contest. Self, who called McCormack’s volleyball spike-like block “the most impressive play” of Tuesday’s game, praised the former four-star recruit’s positivity throughout the limited opportunities.
“They say your performance is usually a direct reflection of your attitude, and his attitude is a ‘10’ every day. I was really happy for him,” Self said. “... (The) second half there was nothing rushed at all. He was poised and calm. We need to see that side of him. He’s such a presence rebounding the ball. I think he’s going to continue to get better at that too.”
For Moore, it was a one-night validation of the faith teammates and coaches have had in his scoring abilities.
“We all know he can score because he does it in practice,” junior forward Mitch Lightfoot said. “He did it all last year on the red team against great players like Devonte’ (Graham), Malik (Newman), Svi (Mykhailiuk). We know he can do it and he showed you guys that tonight.”
Lightfoot scored seven points and grabbed six rebounds in 14 minutes, while sophomore combo guard K.J. Lawson rounded out the Jayhawks’ bench contributors with three points in nine minutes. Lightfoot in particular was effective in a first half that saw the Jayhawks struggle offensively, drawing fouls in the paint three times and converting three-point plays on two of those occasions.
“That’s kind of what I’m here to do, bring energy,” Lightfoot said. “But nah, it was important that was got some points on those possessions. I was just glad I got the opportunity to convert it.”
Also of note: Lightfoot finished with one of the Jayhawks’ best assists, a deceptive leaping dish from the 3-point line to McCormack, who finished the play off with an easy layup.
Was Self fooled by Lightfoot’s last-second dime?
“The high-low? No, no, no. He’s got really ugly form on passing the ball, but that’s how he makes that pass,” Self said with a laugh. “No, that was something we said, ‘We’re going to throw it to David no matter what,’ and he threw it to him.”