Few junior college transfers matriculate into the Kansas program, but the latest newcomer from those ranks has already saved the Jayhawks from a mighty embarrassment.
Playing against a winless mid-major they led for barely eight minutes, Kansas needed the heroics of Tyon Grant-Foster to avoid a homecourt upset by North Dakota State on Saturday.
The No. 7 Jayhawks (4-1) must move on from that scare as they continue a five-game homestand Tuesday against No. 9 Creighton (3-0).
Though Grant-Foster had limited opportunities before Saturday, he led a late defensive stand that saw Kansas allow no field goals inside the final media time out to hold on for a 65-61 win.
After scoring the go-ahead basket for the Jayhawks with 1:20 remaining, Grant-Foster later contributed a key block while providing the defensive spark Kansas coach Bill Self had stressed during one-on-one conversations.
“When I first got here, I wasn’t really used to the defensive stuff they did, so me trying to learn everything on top of trying to play my game was just harder,” said Grant- Foster, a native Kansan who played at Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College. “So now, me focusing on defense, it makes me even more comfortable in the game because I know if I do those things and I mess up on offense I’m still going to stay in the game.”
In 22 minutes against North Dakota State, Grant-Foster contributed eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks, providing a defensive presence the Jayhawks often lacked previously when Self removed center David McCormack.
Their small rotation has been important offensively because Kansas has looked sluggish with the 6-foot-10 McCormack unable to offer consistent production. Grant-Foster provides help on the glass alongside another sleek forward, Jalen Wilson, who contributed 14 points and 15 rebounds against North Dakota State.
Size could be a factor against Creighton, which used a 14-point performance Saturday from 7-foot freshman backup Ryan Kalkbrenner to trample Kennesaw State. Kalkbrenner, who also received an offer from Kansas, made 7 of 8 attempts from the field. His four dunks keyed an early surge.
“There’s a lot of stuff to learn,” said Kalkbrenner. “At first, it was so much information, it took me awhile just to get used to it and get comfortable with everything we do, how we run our offense, how we run our defense. But each game I’m getting more comfortable.”
Kalkbrenner’s role has been to come off the bench and provide three to four aggressive minutes in spot roles. He and another sub, Antwann Jones, each average 10.7 points. Christian Bishop (15 ppg) leads Creighton’s scorers.
“Our bench, their role is just to bring us a lift,” said Bluejays coach Greg McDermott. “A lot of guys could be in the starting lineup and we’d be just fine. I like our rotation and how it is working.”
After tying for the Big East title last season and finishing 24-7, Creighton was picked to finish second behind Villanova in a preseason poll of league coaches. The visit to Kansas will be a competitive upgrade for the Bluejays after toppling North Dakota State, Omaha and Kennesaw State.
–Field Level Media