LAWRENCE (AP) — Bill Self dared Ben McLemore to be more aggressive Thursday night.
If the freshman guard hadn’t heeded the challenge, seventh-ranked Kansas could have left the court inside Allen Fieldhouse with consecutive losses for the first time in ages.
McLemore wound up with 25 points and eight rebounds, and teamed with Elijah Johnson to trigger a big second-half charge, allowing the Jayhawks to escape with a 69-55 victory over Chattanooga.
“I just wanted to get my teammates involved, too,” said McLemore, who added three assists, all despite dislocating his finger twice in the second half. “I just came in tonight with the mindset of being aggressive, like coach wants me to be every night.”
The Jayhawks (2-1), coming off a loss Tuesday night to Michigan State, got off to a sluggish start against the Mocs, and still trailed 42-30 in the opening minutes of the second half.
Jeff Withey began their comeback with a basket inside, Johnson ripped a 3-pointer and McLemore slammed down the first of back-to-back highlight-reel dunks to trigger a 27-4 run over the next 12-plus minutes. Kansas merely had to go through the motions down the stretch to wrap up the win.
“Ben showed a glimpse of his athletic ability tonight,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Defenses are going to be designed to stop Ben, and we don’t know how to run offense yet. We’re still trying to figure it out, and to me that was pretty impressive tonight.”
Farad Cobb was just as impressive: He was 6 of 7 from beyond the arc in the first half, and added another 3-pointer in the second half to finish with 31 points for Chattanooga (1-1).
“They just locked us up defensively,” Chattanooga coach John Shulman said. “They came back and made some shots. Once you make a shot, it kind of changes how everything looks.”
Kansas managed to extend the nation’s third-longest home-court winning streak to 25 games despite having more turnovers (9) than field goals (8) in the waning minutes of the first half.
That’s when things were still tenuous for the Jayhawks.
And when Cobb couldn’t miss.
The freshman guard made his first 3-pointer in the opening minutes, and then after a miss, connected on five straight to finish off the half. Two of them came on consecutive possessions just before the break that helped lift Chattanooga to a 36-28 lead.
The halftime deficit was Kansas’ largest at home to a non-conference opponent since 2005.
Self, whose hallmark over the years has been gritty, in-your-shorts defense, was steaming on the sideline as he blew through just about all his timeouts trying to get Cobb to cool down.
“It’s not a good feeling, period,” Johnson said. “I don’t really like for people to come into the Fieldhouse and have a game like that. It doesn’t happen too much.”
Chattanooga stayed hot early in the second half, getting 3-pointers from Z Mason and Ronrico White to extend the lead to 42-30. The Mocs were 10 of 16 from beyond the arc at that point.
That’s when Kansas finally buckled down on defense, let loose on offense, and gave another packed crowd inside Allen Fieldhouse a reason to jump to its feet.
McLemore’s first dunk during the surge prompted a timeout by Chattanooga coach John Shulman. After the Jayhawks forced a shot-clock violation when the game resumed, McLemore hopped on his pogo stick along the baseline and skied to grab a lob by Johnson for another dunk.
“He’s so explosive,” Shulman said. “He hangs up there for a while.”
McLemore was on the giving end on the next possession, tossing up the pass for Travis Releford to finish off a dunk, and Shulman frantically called another timeout.
Johnson’s 3-pointer finally gave Kansas a 44-43 lead, its first since it was 2-0. McLemore added a breakaway dunk, Naadir Tharpe buried a 3, and Johnson connected with McLemore again for an alley-oop dunk. By the time Withey took a feed from McLemore for a dunk and then added a foul shot, the Jayhawks had suddenly built a 57-46 lead.
“We just got on a roll,” McLemore said, “and we took it from there.”
The Jayhawks cruised down the stretch, outscoring the Mocs 41-19 in the second half. They only committed four turnovers after the break while forcing Chattanooga into 12.
“I thought the first half was the worst we’ve played, and the second half was the best we’ve played all year,” Self said.
“One thing that I do know, we’re not good enough to play 80 percent or 90 percent. We have to play 100 percent every night. When we do that, we’re pretty good.”
No. 7 Kansas 69, Chattanooga 55
White 1-5 2-2 5, McGhee 0-5 1-3 1, Zlovaric 5-12 0-0 10, Jones 0-3 0-0 0, Mason 5-14 1-2 13, Stokes 0-1 0-0 0, Watson 0-0 0-0 0, Bareika 2-4 0-0 5, Robertson 0-3 0-0 0, Cobb 7-9 0-0 21, Bryant 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-57 4-7 55.
Withey 5-8 1-3 11, Johnson 7-10 0-0 18, McLemore 8-18 7-10 25, Releford 1-6 0-1 2, Traylor 0-2 1-2 1, Tharpe 1-6 0-0 3, Adams 1-1 0-0 2, White III 0-1 0-0 0, Ellis 1-3 0-1 2, Young 2-4 1-2 5. Totals 26-59 10-19 69.
Halftime — Chattanooga 36-28. Three-point goals — Chattanooga 11-23 (Cobb 7-9, Mason 2-6, Bareika 1-1, White 1-2, Jones 0-1, McGhee 0-4), Kansas 7-23 (Johnson 4-6, McLemore 2-6, Tharpe 1-5, White III 0-1, Releford 0-5). Fouled Out— None. Rebounds — Chattanooga 35 (Cobb, Mason 5), Kansas 41 (Withey 10). Assists — Chattanooga 10 (White 3), Kansas 20 (Releford 6). Total Fouls — Chattanooga 22, Kansas 13.