Kansas squeaks by Oregon State

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Late in the first half of Friday’s 84-78 loss to No. 10 Kansas, Oregon State’s Ahmad Starks noticed something strange about the guards who were attempting to defend him at the Sprint Center.

“They were bringing guys in,” Starks said, “that we’d barley even scouted.”

Indeed, walk-on Evan Manning, seldom-used freshman Rio Adams and backup point guard Naadir Tharpe all took their turns replacing starter Elijah Johnson in Kansas’ bumbling backcourt.

All of them failed as Oregon State uncorked a 13-0 run that forced a 37-37 tie.

“I was just trying to find anybody that could go out there and give us some positive contributions,” KU coach Bill Self said. “To be honest with you, we didn’t find anyone.”

Kansas (6-1) might have won the game, but Self was far from giddy as the team bus left Kansas City and headed back to Lawrence. Three weeks into the 2012-13 season, the Jayhawks are clearly lacking chemistry and cohesion on the perimeter following the departure of four-year starting point guard Tyshawn Taylor, who’s now with the New Jersey Nets.

To be fair, Johnson -- Taylor’s replacement -- was the Jayhawks’ starting shooting guard last season, so he’s playing a bit out of position. Still, Self expects more out of the senior. On Friday, Starks torched Johnson for 25 points. He was 7-of-13 from 3-point range.

“He got whipped,” Self said of Johnson. “I hate to say that, but the point guard on their team gets 25 and ours gets 6. It’s not all on him, but that’s the thing that’s a little frustrating, because I don’t know where we go from here -- yet.

“I”m trying to figure out a way to put us in a situation where maybe the other team doesn’t feel so comfortable.”

What happened Friday wasn’t an isolated incident. Opposing guards have been having monster games against Kansas all season.

Michigan State’s Keith Appling had his way with Johnson and KU’s backcourt in a 19-point effort back on Nov. 13. Chattanooga threw a scare into Self’s squad and even led at halftime two days later thanks to Farad Cobb, who went 7-of-9 from 3-point land.

San Jose State’s James Kinney went off for 30 points against Kansas on Monday at Allen Fieldhouse, and Starks was darn near unstoppable Friday.

“(Oregon State) didn’t run any offense,” Self said. “All they did was set a high ball screen for 18 minutes in the second half, and we couldn’t guard it.

“We could not stop No. 3 (Starks). Period. That’s something that’s got to improve or we’ll have to change how we play. We’ll have to play some zone or whatnot.”

That’s not to say that Kansas didn’t do some positive things against Oregon State (4-2) on Friday. Ben McLemore scored 21 points and Travis Releford added 20 for a Jayhawks squad that shot 60 percent from the field. KU scored 54 points in the paint, where it benefitted from a slew of easy layups after blowing past Beavers defenders.

Kansas only attempted nine 3-pointers Friday. There was simply little need to shoot from the outside.

“We got the ball where we wanted it to go,” Self said. “We did some good things.”

Perhaps, but squeaking past mid-tier Pac-12 teams isn’t commonplace in Lawrence, where the Jayhawks have averaged 33.3 wins the past three seasons. To be a truly elite team, Self knows Kansas needs to coax more inspired play out of Johnson, who was one of KU’s top players at the end of last season.

Self said Johnson “nicked up” his knee in practice last week and hasn’t been 100 percent. He had 6 points, 9 assists and 4 turnovers Friday and has failed to score in double digits in three of his last four games.

On the season, Johnson is averaging 10.7 points, 4.2 assists and 2.7 turnovers. Defensively, he’s been a liability.

“He’s getting assists and doing some nice things,” Self said, “but he’s not making plays on either end. That’s what’s frustrating, because we’re used to having guys back there who can make some plays.”

Kansas’ string of point guards under Self -- Aaron Miles, Russell Robinson, Sherron Collins and Taylor -- has indeed been impressive. The Jayhawks are confident Johnson will be remembered the same way.

And the last thing they’re going to do is panic just because they’ve been pushed by teams they’d have usually blown out in the past.

“It’s early,” Releford said. “We’re only seven games in. It’s a lot of work. We’ve got a break coming up soon. Hopefully we come together a lot better than what we have recently.

“You’re always happy to get a win, but we know as a team that we should be playing a lot better than we are right now.”