KANSAS CITY, Mo. — If Saturday night was any indication, Udoka Azubuike may at long last have a sizeable sidekick in the Kansas basketball frontcourt.
David McCormack scored a career-high 28 points and hauled in seven rebounds in just 17 minutes in the No. 2-ranked Jayhawks’ 98-57 rout of Kansas City at Sprint Center. The outcome could catapult KU to the top of next week’s polls given a loss suffered earlier this week by previously-undefeated No. 1 Louisville.
McCormack, who entered the game averaging 7.9 points and 4.8 rebounds, finished 11-for-14 from the floor and 6-for-6 from the free-throw line, with four of his seven boards coming on the offensive glass. He also pitched in two steals, just for good measure.
“I think a lot of it was effort and energy, but I think a bigger part of it was skillset,” KU coach Bill Self said of McCormack’s performance. “He shot the ball. He made some 15-, 18-footers. He backed guys down and scored over ’em. ... That’s encouraging. It’s the first time all year long that it looked like he and Doke (Azubuike) were actually comfortable being in there together, passing to each other and kind of keeping away from each other. So that was encouraging.”
The Jayhawks (9-1) were in a funk against the Roos — until suddenly, they weren’t.
On the heels of a nearly four-minute scoreless stretch that had the team down 13-10 through eight minutes, KU finished the opening period on a 33-11 tear. A Tristan Enaruna layup ended the drought and kick-started a 13-0 run that gave the Jayhawks their first double-figure lead. Kansas City's Marvin Nesbitt hit a 3 to end that rally, but that’s when McCormack took over.
A sophomore forward, McCormack became a difference-maker after checking back in with 7:09 left in the first half. He hit a pair of free-throw makes and a layup to put KU back in front by 11, and after another Nesbitt trey, it was a midrange jumper by McCormack that turned away a potential rally by the Roos (5-7), who committed 15 opening-half turnovers.
When the opening 20 minutes were complete, McCormack had scored 16 points, with 14 coming in the period’s final seven minutes. The former McDonald’s All-American went into the locker room in style, grabbing his own miss for a put-back that capped a late-half 12-0 run for the Jayhawks, who led 43-24 at the intermission.
So what was clicking for McCormack?
“Honestly, everything,” McCormack responded. “Just getting open looks that I want, going after the ball as far as rebounding, getting second looks. Just making the right plays, honestly.”
Devon Dotson hit a 3 on KU’s first possession of the second half for a 22-point lead. While the competitive portion of the game may have been finished, McCormack was not.
McCormack’s layup with 17:34 remaining tied a career-high in scoring — the 6-foot-10, 265-pounder had an 18-point performance at Oklahoma as a freshman — but he wasn’t satisfied with that number. That bucket started a personal stretch that saw McCormack score 10 straight Jayhawk points, a streak only halted when he was subbed out after a pair of free-throw makes with 14:51 remaining.
McCormack in that moment even earned a raucous ovation from the 17,702 inside Sprint Center, an often subdued environment compared to regular-season contests held about 40 miles west at Allen Fieldhouse. With the game’s outcome well in hand, McCormack wouldn’t return to the court, ending his brilliant evening.
“Obviously I screwed him around because he should’ve played more. But the game was where it was and we wanted to let everybody kind of play the same amount of minutes,” Self said. “(His performance) is encouraging. I mean, he can shoot the basketball. He’s worked hard. ... His range isn’t 3-point range consistently, but hey, 18-foot and in? Free throws? We go from being a team that I felt like when we played Duke like, ‘How can (Azubuike and McCormack) play together?’ And today’s encouraging that maybe they can, as long as we can guard.”
McCormack admitted that at least part of him was itching to check back into Saturday's game.
“Always,” McCormack said. “Definitely, definitely want to get back in and do whatever I can to help the team.”
McCormack also credited an improved comfort level with the college game for the breakout performance.
“Just wait for the open looks to come to you,” McCormack said. “People are going to be moving, defenders are going to be on their toes. As a player, you can know the right moment when to drive, when to shoot, when to pass or when to go after the ball. Those moments are just going to hit you and you’re going to see it more clear when the game slows down.”
Dotson (18 points) and Marcus Garrett (13) rounded out the double-figure scorers for the Jayhawks, who shot 57.6% from the floor in the victory. Azubuike, KU’s 7-foot senior center and the preseason Big 12 player of the year, had nine points and notched three of KU's nine blocks.
Kansas City, formerly known as UMKC, was led in scoring by Nesbitt and Javan White, who scored 12 points apiece. The Roos finished with 22 turnovers.
KU continues its season with a pair of road contests — an 11 a.m. Dec. 21 game against No. 20 Villanova in Philadelphia and a 2 p.m. Dec. 29 tilt at Stanford — before returning home to kick off Big 12 play with a Jan. 4 contest against West Virginia.
“We’re OK, but we’ll find out how good we are starting next week,” Self said. “You don’t ever say, ‘The season is just starting,’ because we’ve had some good games up until this point, but the season’s just starting. You’ve got 18 league games and you’ve got the three nonconference, all against people that can obviously beat you. That’s the last 21 regular season games in a row without a break. So we’ll find a lot more out about ourselves here starting next Saturday.”