Checking into a game for the first time for Kansas, freshman guard Ochai Agbaji prepared for a play that he’d only ever defended during practice.
Agbaji darted through TCU’s defense, took a lob from Quentin Grimes and recorded his first collegiate basket.
“I told myself the best way to get rid of his nerves was give him an easy basket, and maybe something to energize the crowd a little bit,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Because we’ve been so boring playing above the rim.”
Agbaji, a Kansas City native, had seven points and four rebounds, Dedric Lawson recorded his 47th-career-double-double with 31 points and 14 rebounds and Lagerald Vick added 12 points and four assists as No. 7 Kansas defeated No. 25 TCU 77-68 on Wednesday night.
Agbaji relinquished his redshirt eligibility for Kansas (12-2, 2-1 Big 12) on Tuesday following a season-ending injury to Udoka Azubuike. Agbaji made an immediate impact for the Jayhawks, scoring off an alley-oop on Kansas’ first possession with him on the court.
“It was really my teammates and coaches,” Agbaji said. “They put me in the right position, and they didn’t have any pressure on me to do anything. They just want me to make the right play and play to my athletic ability.”
TCU (12-2, 1-1) continued to have troubles in Allen Fieldhouse, falling to 0-7 all-time at Kansas’ home arena. The Horned Frogs turned the ball over a season-high 20 times, which is also a season high by a Kansas opponent.
“Obviously, the 20 turnovers stand out for us, and that’s how they got it done,” TCU coach Jamie Dixon said. “They were more physical than we were, got the ball inside when they needed to and you’ve got to give them credit.”
The Horned Frogs trailed 40-31 at halftime, but managed to stay in the game throughout. They got within two points of the Jayhawks with 10:33 remaining, but nine consecutive points from Lawson made it an 11-point deficit, which the Horned Frogs would ultimately fail to close.
RJ Nembhard scored a season-high 14 points for TCU while shooting 3-of-6 from behind the arc. He helped offset the absence of Jaylen Fisher, who led the Big 12 in 3-point percentage (44.1) before a right knee injury ahead of TCU’s conference opener sidelined him.
The first half saw seven lead changes before Kansas finally opened the gap to four points following a 3-pointer from Vick. Three turnovers by the Horned Frogs and a missed 3-pointer from JD Miller on TCU’s last possession of the half allowed Kansas to extend the lead to 40-31 at halftime.
TCU cut the deficit to two points following Kouat Noi’s third steal of the game followed by a layup.
Kansas extended the lead back to as many as nine points, but TCU cut it to three with under two minutes remaining. But Marcus Garrett’s offensive rebound and layup and subsequent turnover on the inbounds allowed Kansas to gain control of the game.
The Jayhawks made all four of their final free throws to finish the game.
“We’re playing at home and you should play better at home, but it’s been (bad) the last few days, obviously,” Self said. “So I thought our guys did respond to that, and I thought we played a lot better. Even if we didn’t play great, we didn’t allow TCU to play well, and I thought our defense was pretty good, especially the first half.”
Self improved his record at Kansas to 87-11 following a loss, after the Jayhawks fell to Iowa State on the road last Saturday. The win also moved Self’s record in Allen Fieldhouse to 48-3 following a loss.
The Horned Frogs’ shooting let them down. They shot 46.3 percent from the field, despite coming into the game leading the Big 12 in field goal percentage (49.9). The Horned Frogs missed six of their last seven field-goal attempts.
Kansas: travels to Waco, Texas, to take on Baylor on Saturday.
TCU: will stay on the road to play Oklahoma on Saturday.
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