Kansas basketball rode 13 steals and 19 forced turnovers to a victory Wednesday at West Virginia, with the No. 3-ranked Jayhawks notching 21 points off those Mountaineer gaffes.
While Bill Self was pleased with the collective defensive effort in the 58-49 come-from-behind victory, one player’s contributions stood out above the rest — and it’d be easy to guess which Jayhawk that was, even for those who missed the online-exclusive broadcast.
"I don’t know if we really forced mistakes," Self said, "as much as Marcus Garrett forced mistakes."
Garrett, a junior guard and the Jayhawks’ longtime defensive ace, recorded five steals in a tough-as-nails, 40-minute outing. Of those pickpockets, three came in the game’s final seven minutes, helping KU overcome what had earlier been a nine-point deficit.
"Marcus Garrett, God, he can guard anybody," Self said in a postgame radio interview. "He was the best player in the game and didn’t score, I mean, much. He was unbelievable tonight."
As mentioned earlier, Garrett’s defensive prowess shined brightest in crunch time.
The savvy 6-foot-5, 195-pounder recorded a steal on three of four late Mountaineer possessions, a stretch that began with his theft of WVU's Jordan McCabe with the Jayhawks down 46-45 with 6:56 remaining. Garrett stole the ball from Mile McBride on the next WVU possession, and after Gabe Osabuohien and Udoka Azubuike traded buckets, Garrett came up big again, this time stealing it from Oscar Tshiebwe with 5:25 remaining.
"It’s not like it was (bad passes). He just goes and takes the guy he’s guarding’s ball," Self said of Garrett’s late steals. "He got a couple of bad calls late where he played perfect defense and then they got him for reaching in. You know, it looked like to me he had high hands the whole time."
From there, the game belonged to KU. Azubuike’s layup — and, yes, Garrett’s defensive efforts — kick-started a 13-1 run for the Jayhawks to close out the game.
KU was held without a field goal for the final 4:54, but WVU did no better, held scoreless for the final 5:07 and to a 1-for-12 shooting finish to the final buzzer.
"This wasn’t artistic at all," Self said. "But this was a grind-it-out, tough road win that you play, that you have sometimes when you’re going through your second round of conference."
All told, WVU committed eight turnovers in the game's final seven minutes.
"I don’t know who guards better than him, anywhere," Self said of Garrett. "He guarded one-through-five today. He just took guys. … He’s unbelievable defensively. I really thought he controlled the game on that end."
Garrett's five steals helped offset his own six-turnover outing. He also finished with nine points on 4-for-10 shooting and with seven rebounds and four assists.
"We had to lock in," Garrett said. "We knew time was running down and we had to try to get back in the game, we had to try to take the lead. So we knew we had to turn it up defensively. … I feel like we can guard, and the last, what, eight minutes of the game, I feel like we did that and we were able to come away with the win."
The No. 14 Mountaineers finished 19 for 60 from the field and 4 of 17 from 3-point range, coming out on the wrong end of the matchup between advanced analytics outlet KenPom.com’s top two teams nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency.
"It’s nice to know that guys are hanging their hat on that," Self said. "My teams that I’ve had that have been my best teams, obviously they can play both ends, but I think when you make shots the tendency is to relax because you always know you can come back. But when you don’t make shots, the tendency is, ‘We’ve got to grind harder than ever because we can’t allow them to create more separation,’ and that’s kind of what this team is doing."