'Kansas deserves better': KU basketball bludgeoned by USC in 85-51 season-ending defeat

Matt Galloway
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas basketball's Bryce Thompson, left, stumbles while trying to guard USC's Tahj Eaddy during the first half of Monday's game at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Trojans held a 19-point lead at half time en route to their comfortable 85-51 victory in the second-round matchup at the NCAA Tournament.

To paraphrase a well-known Boston Celtics-turned-Iona Gaels head coach, Frank Mason wasn’t walking through that door for Kansas basketball on Monday night.

Watching his alma mater’s season crash and burn on national TV, however, the former consensus national player of the year gave Jayhawk fans at least one pleasant thought on an evening otherwise totally devoid of them.

“Tell Coach (Bill) Self I’m headed to the game,” tweeted Mason, who posted the message to social media with the Jayhawks down by nearly 20 early in the second half of their Round of 32 matchup against USC. “I’ll be there by the 10 (minute) mark, ready to sub in on arrival.”

Truth is, a time machine and Wilt Chamberlain himself may not have been enough.

KU was bludgeoned early and often, unable to pick itself up off the mat — and, for good measure, pummeled while it was down there — in a season-ending 85-51 defeat to the six-seeded Trojans at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. A listless offense and a defense shell-shocked by USC's 11-for-18 shooting performance from 3-point range proved a lethal combination for the Jayhawks (21-9), who faced a double-digit deficit for the game’s final 24 minutes.

Speaking at a postgame news conference, Self labeled this season "difficult."

"I'm proud of our guys that we made it to the tournament. I'm proud of the guys that we were a three-seed. I'm proud of our guys that we won a game in the tournament," Self said. "I'm just not leaving out of here, nor are they, remotely proud about how we performed or prepared or how we got 'em ready tonight.

"Kansas deserves better, and we didn't perform."

KU, which entered as a winner of nine of its previous 10 contests, allowed USC to convert 57.1% of its field goal tries while only hitting on 18 of 62 — or 29% — of its own shot attempts. The Trojans advanced to a Sweet 16 matchup against Pac-12 rival and seven-seeded Oregon.

The Jayhawks’ hopes of advancing to the second weekend were effectively extinguished across the 20 minutes of misery that represented Monday’s dire first half, which concluded with Self’s squad in a 19-point hole.

A year-long source of frustration that only worsened as the season went on, the KU offense missed its first eight shot attempts and connected on just 25.8% of its field goal tries before intermission, with leading scorer Ochai Agbaji going 0 for 6 from the floor and 0 for 3 from beyond the arc in the frame. Outrebounded by 10 in the period, the Jayhawks were just 3 for 11 from 3-point range in the opening half.

USC, meanwhile, went into the locker room on a tear, scoring the final 11 points before the break. Isaiah Mobley was 4 for 4 from distance — the sophomore forward’s previous career-best for 3s in a single game was two — and had 14 points and six rebounds at halftime. Evan Mobley, Isaiah’s brother and a 7-foot freshman forward likely destined for a top pick in the NBA Draft, punished KU to the tune of seven points and 10 rebounds in that opening period.

The Jayhawks’ misfortune was best summed up in the closing moments of the first half, when a traveling violation wiped away redshirt senior forward Mitch Lightfoot’s second-chance layup with 0.1 seconds left. 

USC (24-7) kept shoveling dirt onto KU in the second half.

Isaiah White’s 3-pointer with 13:34 left gave the Trojans a 58-35 advantage. Tahj Eaddy's trey pushed the lead to 79-44 with 4:56 remaining and made USC a jaw-dropping 11 for 16 from beyond the arc. The 34-point spread at the final buzzer represented the largest margin of defeat in the Jayhawks’ rich history at the NCAA Tournament.

Playing in perhaps his final collegiate contest, redshirt senior guard and defensive ace Marcus Garrett (15 points) finished as the only Jayhawk in double-figures. Fellow starters Agbaji, Christian Braun, Bryce Thompson and David McCormack combined for a ghastly 7-for-31 shooting clip in the defeat.

“We kind of picked the wrong day to not make any shots,” Garrett said, “and the other team was making everything that they shot. ... At the start of the second half it felt like we could never get the game back from ’em. They just kept hitting shots and kept getting anything they wanted to offensively.”

Garrett hasn’t yet publicly announced whether he will take advantage of the NCAA’s decision to not count this year against a player’s eligibility and return for a fifth season with KU. Regardless of what happens on that front, Self said he felt “disappointed” that Garrett had to be a part of what unfolded Monday.

“I thought he competed. I thought he tried his butt off,” Self said. “He got frustrated there in the first half obviously when he didn’t get a whistle and then he kind of fouled, made a dumb foul. If this is his last game, and I know he’s got a decision to make, I’m really proud to have been his coach. Certainly I totally appreciate his abilities and what he gets out of himself each and every day. Jayhawk fans should be very proud of him as well.”

KU connected on just 6 of 25 tries from distance in the defeat, a reflection of a season-long bugaboo for this group: offensive decision-making.

“Our shot selection was poor,” Self said. “We haven’t been a great shot selection team all year long. Tonight it seemed like to me when we got a little sped up, we didn’t execute. We took some very marginal shots. We were 6 of 25, but I bet of the 25 we took, I bet you 10 to 15 were probably marginal at best.

“Playing a team like that and beating the length and a team that is going to stay in a zone if you don’t make shots, you’ve got to make some shots, especially when you don’t have big guys, multiple big guys that you can play inside.”

The Trojans, on the other hand, placed five in double-figures: Isaiah Mobley (17 points), White (13), Evan Mobley (10 points, 13 rebounds, three blocked shots), Eaddy (12) and Chevez Goodwin (10).

“They were obviously more prepared,” Self said. “They played better, (were) coached better. We shot it miserably. It’s going to be hard for us to score over that length regardless, and they shot it unbelievably well. Even early in the game, first 10 possessions or whatever, we had some looks, didn’t make any and they made some. We played from a hole the entire time."

KU's last four NCAA tourney defeats have come by an average margin of 19.5 points.

“That’s about as poor as we could play," Self said. "I’m sure (USC coach) Andy (Enfield) would say that’s one of their better moments, better games. It was a bad combination all the way around for us.”

NO. 6 USC 85, NO. 3 KANSAS 51

USC (24-7)

Eaddy 5-12 0-0 12, I. Mobley 6-14 1-1 17, E. Mobley 4-6 2-4 10, White 5-7 0-3 13, Peterson 1-4 2-2 5, Goodwin 4-4 2-2 10, Coulibaly 1-1 0-0 2, Anderson 4-5 1-3 9, Waters 0-0 0-0 0, Agbonkpolo 2-2 0-0 5, Morgan 0-0 0-0 0, Baumann 0-1 0-0 0, Parris 0-0 0-0 0, Ross 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 32-56 10-17 85.

KANSAS (21-9)

Garrett 6-15 2-2 15, Braun 2-9 0-2 5, Thompson 0-5 0-0 0, Agbaji 3-13 0-0 8, McCormack 2-4 1-2 5, Grant-Foster 3-7 0-0 7, Harris 1-1 0-0 3, Jossell 0-1 2-2 2, Wilson 0-3 2-2 2, Teahan 0-1 0-0 0, Jankovich 0-1 0-0 0, Muscadin 0-0 0-0 0, Lightfoot 1-2 2-2 4. Totals 18-62 9-12 51.

Half — USC 40-21. 3-point goals — USC 11-18 (I. Mobley 4-5, White 3-4, Eaddy 2-5, Agbonkpolo 1-1, Peterson 1-2, Baumann 0-1), Kansas 6-25 (Agbaji 2-8, Harris 1-1, Garrett 1-2, Grant-Foster 1-3, Braun 1-6, Jankovich 0-1, Jossell 0-1, Thompson 0-3). Rebounds — USC 43 (E. Mobley 13), Kansas 27 (Garrett 6). Assists — USC 18 (E. Mobley 5), Kansas 12 (Garrett 4, Harris 4). Turnovers — USC 14 (Anderson 3), Kansas 7 (Grant-Foster 2). Blocks — USC 4 (E. Mobley 3), Kansas 2 (Agbaji, McCormack). Steals — USC 3 (E. Mobley, Peterson, Ross), Kansas 8 (Garrett 2, Braun 2, Agbaji 2). Total fouls — USC 14, Kansas 17. Fouled out — none. Technical fouls — none. Officials — Sirmons, McCall, Anderson.