Promise realized: Jalen Wilson clutch again for KU basketball in win over Creighton
LAWRENCE — Jalen Wilson made the biggest splash in Tuesday’s top-10 showdown at Allen Fieldhouse, the redshirt freshman’s late go-ahead 3 delivering a 73-72 victory for No. 5 Kansas over No. 8 Creighton.
That said, Wilson is confident that the metaphorical cape he wore on the Jayhawks’ final possession would’ve fit just fine on any one of his teammates.
“Coming out of the huddle we all told each other that we are going to end this game, we are going to win this game,” said Wilson, whose trey gave KU a 73-70 lead with 40 seconds remaining. “So I feel like if anybody was in that position we would all have the confidence due to what we do for each other.”
Wilson scored 23 points and hauled in 10 rebounds for his second consecutive double-double, KU connected on 10 of 22 tries from beyond the arc and the Jayhawks (5-1) were able to survive a late push from the Bluejays (3-1) to earn their second nonconference victory over a top-25 opponent. Christian Braun (14 points) joined Wilson as Jayhawks with four made 3s, and David McCormack (13 points) rounded out the team’s double-figure scorers.
“We were fortunate, very fortunate,” said KU coach Bill Self. “The game should’ve never been in that situation though. Even though it was a great game and either team could’ve won, we had a chance to certainly put ourselves in a position where that couldn’t happen and then we almost really screwed it up. So we were pretty lucky.”
Self was more than justified in his usage of that last word.
After Wilson’s 3 — a wide-open look created by McCormack, who passed out of a double team in the paint — Creighton standout Marcus Zegarowski missed his own long-range shot. Braun came down with the defensive rebound, but the sophomore guard missed the front end of a 1-and-1, keeping the margin at three with 12.5 seconds remaining.
Then, with 1.1 seconds left, Wilson fouled Zegarowski on the latter’s attempted game-tying 3. However, after making his first two tries at the stripe, Zegarowski missed the third, and the Bluejays were unable to secure the must-have offensive board as the game’s final second expired.
“I wasn’t supposed to foul, obviously, but I was trying to pressure him up because he had been hitting the whole game,” Wilson said. “I feel like I kind of hit him a little bit but he kicked his feet out to me. He fortunately didn’t hit all of his free throw and (tie) the game, so that’s really it.”
KU went 6-for-12 from the free-throw line in the second half and missed its final three attempts, aiding a Creighton rally that erased a five-point deficit to lock the game at 70-all with 1:04 left. Denzel Mahoney (19 points) accounted for the final three made buckets for the Bluejays, who themselves went 9-for-18 from the stripe in the defeat.
“There were some things we can do I think to play stronger I think with the ball, but for the most part our guys competed their butts off the whole game,” Self said. “It was a fun game. They’re good. They’re really good.”
While Wilson has faith any Jayhawk could’ve made the game-winning shot, it’s becoming clear that the second-year forward is emerging as perhaps the team’s most reliable go-to option.
The 6-foot-8, 215-pounder, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury just two games into his freshman campaign, kept KU afloat just before and shortly after halftime. Wilson accounted for 12 straight team points in that stretch, a run capped on a made 3 that gave KU a 45-43 edge with 16:15 left. Wilson finished 8-for-12 shooting and 4-for-6 from beyond the arc in 32 minutes.
Adjectives Self used to describe Wilson in his postgame news conference included “terrific” and “unbelievable.”
“He’s a good player, man. He’s a really good basketball player,” Self said. “He loves right now how he’s playing because he’s playing everywhere. ... I mean it’s getting to the point where we kind of expect him to produce. Now I don’t expect him to go 4-for-6 (from 3) every game, but he has no fear. I didn’t think he had (fear), but until you’ve actually coached him, once we started playing, I mean, this dude’s got no fear.
“He likes the moment. I look for him to continue to improve and give us more and more as we move on.”
McCormack observed that Wilson has always had this kind of tenacity, only unable to put it on display a year ago because of the season-ending injury. Ochai Agbaji recently detailed how, shortly after he was shelved, Wilson “made a promise” to his teammates “to come out here and be one of those guys” for the Jayhawks upon his return.
Six games into the 2020-21 campaign, those words appear prophetic.
“Being hurt last year with such a great team we had last year, that motivated me every day to get better,” Wilson said. “I tried to motivate them as much as I could from practice and on the sideline in games last year. I was just trying to let everybody know that I’m going to work hard just like they did the whole year. Even though our season was ended last year, we have a chance this year, so I’m excited to give everything I have.”