Kansas senior guard Ochai Agbaji on Friday was chosen a second-team midseason All-American by the Sporting News.
A nice honor, sure, but not good enough in the eyes of his Jayhawks teammate, Christian Braun.
“Something came out yesterday, second-team All-American. There’s no question the guy’s first team,” Braun said after the 6-foot-5 Agbaji scored a team-leading and career-high tying 29 points in the Jayhawks’ 78-75 men’s basketball victory over Kansas State on Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum.
“He’s the best player in the country as you saw tonight. He played defense, played offense, played his heart out. He’s one of the most complete players in college basketball, a leader by example. It’s exciting to see him play at that level,” Braun added.
Agbaji hit the game-winning shot as KU completed a comeback from a 17-point second-half deficit at K-State.
His driving layup with nine seconds left gave the Jayhawks a 76-75 lead.
“Och … I still don’t know why he didn’t get three free throws instead of two, but he didn’t. Nobody explained it to me,” KU coach Bill Self said of Agbaji hitting two free throws with 55 seconds left that helped KU creep from three points down to 75-74. It had looked as if Agbaji was fouled on a three.
“His basket at the end (to win it) ... we tried to run a little curl play hoping (Mark) Smith wouldn’t back up to help because he was on David (McCormack, 11 points, career-high tying 15 rebounds). He did back up but it wasn’t there. Dave made a pass to Ochai. Ochai made the good play. The way Ochai has scored of late shows he’s a complete guy. He didn’t shoot the ball well today and got 29.”
Of the play, Agbaji said: “David passed to me. I drove the baseline — it was quick first step and finishing..”
Agbaji hit 10 of 18 shots. He was 2 of 8 on three-pointers and 7 of 11 from the free-throw line.
“We knew it was going to be a grind,” Agbaji said of a game in which KU trailed by as many as 17 points. “We kept telling ourselves it’s a long game. Things were not looking up for us. We came in the locker room and kept our spirts high.”
Agbaji noted that a loud Kansas State crowd inspired the Jayhawks.
“With a crowd like that,” he said, “and everything seemingly against us, it got us to come together more. We knew we could not make 16-point plays. It was one possession at a time, staying together.”
Agbaji tipped his cap to K-State’s Nijel Pack, who led all scorers with 35 points.
“He can shoot it. He can flat out score. He can get baskets. He had eight threes,” Agbaji said.
But Agbaji happened to be the hero for the winning team.
“He was great for us,” KU’s Jalen Wilson said of Agbaji.
“He had the hot hand. I had full confidence in him making the shot (to win game).”