Christian Braun’s career night helps Kansas No.8 pass St. John’s, 95-75

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Elmont, NY – Kansas goaltender Christian Braun dropped a career-high 31 points in Friday’s 95-75 win over St. John’s, and the extra mustard that came with it inspired some of the Jayhawks to revert to a name that was often used to describe Braun in first grade.

Senior goalkeeper Ochai Agbaji attributed the nickname to Chris Teahan, but stopped before sharing it, simply saying he couldn’t say the word.

“Christian in first year, when he was a kid… I can’t say a word,” Agbaji said after the victory. “He was just that man. He thought he was that guy, trusted him and everyone followed him too.

When asked what the word began with, Agbaji smiled and said, “BA Keep it simple.”

Braun said of his role as resident bully in Friday’s victory: “Their crowd was really good tonight, and calming them down when they’re making all that noise is really good.”

Braun’s big night out on Friday wasn’t easy. He opened with nine points in the first eight minutes of the first half and he played a monster role in KU’s knockout, which came after St. John’s (5-2) slashed the KU’s 13-point lead at halftime to three. (64-61) in the middle of the second half.

For the fourth game in a row, Braun showed tenacity in the half court and transition, looking to attack defense and hit the paint whenever possible.

This, he said, was intentional and the result of his offseason self-assessment.

“I’m just working on being aggressive,” he said. “When I got into (college) I wasn’t just a sniper and that’s kind of what I have become. But I know that if I’m aggressive, that stuff will open up.

Braun made 10 of 16 shots on Friday night and nine of 10 free throws. Four of those charity shots came after back-to-back techniques were called on St. John’s coach Mike Anderson and guard Posh Alexander when the game ended.

He also added eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.

“CB is getting on the draft boards,” KU coach Bill Self said after the victory. “He’s a good player, he does a lot of everything and he’s been playing his best since he’s been here.”

Whether it was a 3-point clutch to hold KU’s cushion or a vicious dunk to calm the rowdy St. John’s crowd, Braun’s fire and passion were just as important to the Jayhawks (6 -1) than the points he put on the board.

“I think anytime you show personality it’s important,” Self said. “Energy is contagious. And I think CB is a lot better when he shows how much he enjoys being there.

Having struggled to close second-half games throughout the season so far, it looked like the Jayhawks were heading down that path again on Friday.

A 13-point lead, which – stop me if you’ve heard this one – could have been more, quickly fell to eight as SJU scored the first five points of the second half.

Self immediately called out what he described as “a pissed off time out” and the Jayhawks got back on their feet.

One of the main catalysts for KU’s strong first half – second chance points – emerged early in the second to help slow St. John’s push back.

Senior forward David McCormack’s sixth offensive rebound of the night and the subsequent assist to Braun in an easy layup stopped the Red Storm run and put KU back 10.

The two teams then traded baskets for the next few minutes as the game entered the home stretch, still uncertain.

After scoring just four points in 17 minutes in the first half, Champagnie scored four three-pointers in four minutes early in the second to bring St. John’s closer.

“He was really, really good,” Self said of Champagnie, who finished with 24 points from six 3-point marks, one better than Agbaji’s 3-point night at 5 of 9. “I don’t don’t think we kept it very well, but you still have to do those shots and they weren’t wide open either. ”

Champagnie had five 3-pointers in the second half before missing to help St. John’s come close to three points at 64-61. But KU responded to Red Storm’s push – and the fiery crowd – with an 11-0 run to narrow the lead to its halftime margin.

Agbaji and Braun had five each during the run, which then grew to 21-3, and the very first basketball game played in the New York Islanders’ brand new hockey arena was effectively put on the ice.

McCormack and Agbaji both said the Jayhawks understand that basketball can be a racing game. But it was their goal on Friday night to make sure St. John’s didn’t gain confidence from this race.

“(That’s what we learned) from the last two games,” Agbaji said. “Today we knew how to handle it, how to keep playing our game and how to focus on defense more than anything.”

McCormack added, “We kind of came together and said, ‘It’s time to shut them off and make more saves defensively and worry less about offense. “”

This is the message Self still preaches and, for the most part, he was happy with what he saw on Friday night.

“We did a lot better when they cut it down to three,” he said. “Of course we didn’t keep anybody until they got it down to three, but it was a good way to end the game.”

The Jayhawks’ defense was excellent throughout the home stretch and saw KU beat St. John’s 31-14 to close the game.

In it, Kansas beat the balls, rebounds and willpower of St. John’s, playing what Self said was a pretty good 30 minutes of basketball.

But it was Braun’s arrogance, McCormack’s rebounding prowess (he tied a career-high 13 points while scoring 15 points) and KU’s experience that led the Jayhawks to an important victory over the road.

“These (non-conference) games mean a lot,” Agbaji said. “Kind of a practice for conference road games, when we have stretches of road like this and we win on the road and respond to crowds like this.”

While these are essential, Braun said the big picture is the most important part of the puzzle.

“We’re just trying to get a win and get better with every game,” he said. “We put a lot of emphasis on better defense and we have to finish better and start the halves.”

The Jayhawks will return to action on Tuesday when they host UTEP at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Missouri, before returning to Allen Fieldhouse to face Missouri on Saturday, December 11.


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