No. 2 Kansas outlasts No. 5 Tennessee to stay undefeated

Kansas forward Dedric Lawson reacts after scoring a basket during overtime of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, in New York. Kansas defeated Tennessee 87-81. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Brooklyn, N.Y. — Kansas freshman Devon Dotson may not quite be worthy of mention in the same breath as former KU stars Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham just yet.

But he’s gaining on it.

And one of the big reasons he is stems from the fact that Dotson already appears to have learned a valuable lesson that served both Mason and Graham extremely well during the past couple of seasons — get the ball to big man Udoka Azubuike.

Dotson did just that early and often during the second-ranked Jayhawks’ 87-81, overtime victory over No. 5 Tennessee on Friday night at Barclays Center in the title game of the NIT Season Tip-Off.

Four times in the game’s first six minutes, Dotson put pressure on the Tennessee defense by attacking hard and dumping an easy pass to Azubuike near the rim.

The strategy might have worked for much longer, and much better, had it not been for one problem. Azubuike just could not stay on the floor.

So, instead, the lightning-fast, jet-quick, ultra-tough Dotson (17 points in 40 minutes) did everything he could to lead Kansas to victory in other ways, aided by another double-double from Dedric Lawson (24 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists in 41 minutes) and a strong night from K.J. Lawson, who contributed eight points, six rebounds and two steals while playing 19 minutes with Marcus Garrett sidelined because of concussion-like symptoms.

It wasn't the prettiest of efforts by either team. But Kansas coach Bill Self had no problem with that after his team collected its latest trophy and celebrated a hard-fought win.

"It’s OK to win ugly," Self said. "And winning ugly’s actually pretty at the end of the day. You shouldn’t apologize for beating a team that’s ranked in the Top 5 in the country and I’m not going to. That was a great win.”

Kansas, which actually began looking like the No. 2 team in the country in the overtime, grinded through a tough night and a bunch of mistakes — 20-of-32 from the free throw line was one of the more glaring issues — and did so without Azubuike being the type of factor that a 7-foot, 265-pound bully of a ball player can be.

For the second game in a row, Azubuike picked up his second foul in the first half — this one on an unnecessary over-the-back call after a Dedric Lawson miss — and went to the bench for a significant stretch.

Self subbed freshman David McCormack in for Azubuike with 8:20 to play in the half and Kansas leading 19-14. Azubuike did not return to the game until the start of the second half.

With Azubuike in the game, Kansas built a 19-14 lead through the first 12 minutes of the first half. With Azubuike out, Tennessee (4-1) closed the half on a 19-12 run to take a 33-31 lead into the locker room.

“I think that we, obviously, played makeshift lineups tonight and didn’t play particularly well at all, offensively," Self said. "(We) didn’t have Marcus and had a couple starters really struggle and somehow found a way to hang in there. Charlie (Moore) and K.J. were great off the bench and played a key role.

“It was a good, grind-it-out win, toughness win, not artistic at all. But I think we need to learn how to win that way. This team’s never really done that but we were able to do that tonight.”

K.J. Lawson said he was prepared for a bigger role the minute he heard Garrett would not play. But that knowledge was only half of the reason he delivered.

“I knew I would play significant minutes," the sophomore reserve said after the win. "But I always stay ready, since Day 1 because, you know, you’ve got to be ready whenever your name’s called.”

Added Dedric Lawson of his older brother's performance, which KU needed every statistic of to survive: "I thought he played terrific. He came out there with high energy. He’s a dog on the floor. He’s a competitor.”

The first half was hardly pretty for either side. Kansas (5-0) spent most of the half shooting 50 percent or better but also turned it over nine times and shot just 22 percent from 3-point range, airballing or hitting the backboard first on a couple of those long-range bombs.

Related document

Box score: Kansas 87, Tennessee 81 (OT) ( .PDF )

Tennessee, meanwhile, shot just 39 percent in the half but hit key baskets at opportune times and, on two different occasions, built the only thing that even came close to resembling momentum for either side.

The Vols found some actual momentum early in the second half, opening up a nine-point lead four minutes in thanks, at least in part, to Azubuike picking up his third (19:11) and fourth (16:15) fouls of the game.

Both were on the offensive end and only one was his fault. Either way, Tennessee’s ability to get Azubuike off the floor put Kansas in a world of trouble.

Azubuike re-entered with 10:11 to play and Kansas trailing by six. Over the next six minutes, Azubuike showed what the Jayhawks had been missing, cleaning up the offensive glass, throwing down a monster dunk and even hitting the front end of a one-and-one free throw situation.

Yes, the Dok Cheer did travel, as the KU contingent at Barclays went nuts when he made the free throw.

Azubuike, who picked up two of his five fouls on the offensive end, fouled out with 4:25 to play on a sloppy possession that led to an unlucky loose-ball foul. He finished with nine points, four rebounds and four turnovers in 17 minutes.

Luckily for Kansas, senior Lagerald Vick (15 points in 43 minutes), who opened the game by swishing his first shot of the night, tied things at 56 with a step-back 3-pointer with 7:20 to play. Kansas got a stop on the very next possession and Vick came down gunning again. Swish. Kansas 59, Tennessee 56.

The back-to-back 3-pointers pushed KU’s run to 11-2 and Vick made it 13-2 with a jumper on the very next possession.

After another stop by the Kansas defense, the Jayhawks failed to give their senior so much as a touch on the next possession and Dedric Lawson misfired on a jumper that set the stage for a 5-0 Tennessee run that tied the game at 61.

From there, the two teams played nip-and-tuck to the finish and KU misfired on two chances to win in regulation in the closing seconds.

The first came when K.J. Lawson missed a driving runner. And the second when Dedric Lawson’s desperation heave at the buzzer flew long.

That shot, which came on an inbounds pass under the basket, should never have happened. Self explained why after the victory.

"Lagerald was wide open on the lob. I mean wide open," Self recalled. "And Devon was scared to throw it.

“You’ve got to watch what you say to kids," Self continued. "Because I said, ‘We’re going to run it this way and then, if it’s not open, Dedric will take the shot, just make sure you get the ball to Dedric.’ Well (Dotson) just got the ball to Dedric (when) Lagerald’s wide open for an easy lay in. We’ve got to improve on things like that.”

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes left the Barclays Center irked that Kansas even had an opportunity to draw up the lob play to Vick that never happened.

“We were one rebound away from having a chance to win it in regulation," Barnes said. "And we couldn’t get it. That was another thing. I thought they beat us to 50-50 balls. ... We had a chance. (But) they outplayed us. They beat us.”

KU will stick around New York for a day of sightseeing on Saturday before returning to Lawrence on Sunday.

The Jayhawks will then get a week’s worth of rest before hosting Stanford at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 1 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Comments

Bryce Landon

They say nothing ever lives up to the hype; this game smashed the hype. KU and UT both proved themselves worthy of their rankings in a very entertaining (if not at times frustrating) game. But as is usually the case, Bill Self-coached teams are tougher and better at coming up with winning plays down the stretch than are Rick Barnes-coached teams.

My favorite part of the game came at the very end as Bill Self went down the bench high-fiving every player on his team, even the walk-ons. I cannot recall that I have ever seen him do that before. Usually when he is particularly proud of the way his guys play, he'll pump his fist and let out a primal roar (refer to the 2012 Missouri game, the 2012 NCAA Tournament game with Purdue, or the 2018 Big 12 Tournament title game against West Virginia as examples). High-fiving all his guys is a new one for me.

What a great day in sports for me. Between the Hawkeye football team's Heroes' Game win over Nebraska and the Jayhawk basketball team's win over Tennessee in the NIT finals, it has been an excellent Thanksgiving weekend!

On Iowa in football, Rock Chalk Jayhawk in basketball!

10 months ago

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Al Martin

Go away.

10 months ago

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Bryce Landon

Make me.

10 months ago

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James Miller

Iowa sucks.

10 months ago

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Al Martin

Exactly the immature response all of us would expect from you. Only jackasses come on to a fan site and root for another team. You certainly qualify.

10 months ago

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Kent Kossoy

I'm with you on Iowa Football. '85-'89 were great years when I lived in Iowa City. Kansas Football sucked in the 70's. And they still suck. Anyone see yesterday's "finally" effort against Texas??

10 months ago

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Joe Ross

You mean the one that only saw us lose by 7 points to the number 14 team in the country? Yeah I saw it too.

10 months ago

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Steve Zimmerman

I'm high fiving you, Bryce! It's a great feeling - you can tell how happy this young team at the end of OT. Both Lawsons played big role, so did Vick, Dotson, Charlie. Oh, Dedric can dunk!! we want to see more of him being beast on the floor like that. Grimes seems to be out of tune these past few games. Hopefully he'll learn quickly. KJ is our rebounding machine. He gets up so fast. Great win!

10 months ago

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Dane Pratt

Congratulations Bryce on your win over the Huskers. Looks like your preparation paid off. Maybe next season you can move up from assistant to the water boy to the actual water boy. Good luck and don't give up on your dream.

10 months ago

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William Dostert

Bryce, I’m not as mean as the other guy but had to Trelligence you my favorite saying growing up in Nebraska

“Interstate 80 Iowa nothing”. :)

10 months ago

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Barry Weiss

Great game. Coach wanted toughness and he got it. A real grind of a game. horrible ft shooting, a lot of turnovers, but Dedric pulled another double, double. Dotson is looking good. Grimes will come around. Great win!

10 months ago

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Mike Greer

Thankfully Dotson didn't get the ball to Dok very often, since most of the time he was on the bench. Dok has to learn when to foul and when to just play. Too many of his fouls are poor choices. Like over the back when you have about a 10% chance of actually getting the ball or guarding out near the arc.

I now know why McCormick has had minimal playing time, he's more lost than Silvio was late last December.

The Lawson's and Moore had a good game tonight and Dotson was great most of the night.

Good win against a tough opponent.

10 months ago

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Dane Pratt

Gutsy win but I would feel much better about this team if they could improve their shooting from the line.

10 months ago

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Steve Zimmerman

FT and pullups are really bad. 3pts are not consistent. But really, if this team can't even shoot pullups, mid-range, floaters, we will always depend on FT calls favoring us.

10 months ago

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Stephen Dobelbower

No mention of Williams in this write up does him a disservice. The game turned when he fouled out. PERIOD. Good game by our guys, Lackluster officiating for sure.

10 months ago

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Brett McCabe

I'm impressed with this win. This team is still gelling. They are nowhere near their peak and they fought through a pretty rough performance (credit to Barnes and Tennessee for making it a tough night) to win against a really good team that is coached by an elite coach. This game and Michigan State were both toss ups, and we came out 2-0.

As Grimes and McCormack grow and contribute....watch out. And who knows, maybe we get Silvio back?

10 months ago

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Paul Rupp

Agreed Brett---not playing yet as a gelled team, but I think you can see it coming. Whatever level of "toughness" they held at the beginning of the game, it increased a little by the end.

The Jayhawks improved in this game. Rock Chalk.

10 months ago

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Andy Godwin

Got to love Dotson’s game. He is fearless. Yes early, but the way he attacks and finishes at the basket among the trees is impressive: he has to remind one of a taller Frank Mason. Self demonstrated why he is in the hall of fame. Self wants to win everytime he steps on the court and he is uncannily about figuring out during a game what pieces fit best. Every year it is discussed about why Self does not let players, even McDonald All Americans, play through mistakes. It is simple - he wants to win. The talented Grimes missed numerous defensive assignments (the best way to find a seat on the bench) and McCormack, who will be good in time, was too amped up. Mitch provides some up and down minutes, Udoka was MIA, so Self goes small with Dotson, Moore, Vick, and then KJ at the 4 and Dedric at 5 and somehow gets it all to work. Few coaches have his feel for any given game tempo and the ability to make, more often than not, the correct moves in real-time.

10 months ago

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Mallory Briggans

Finishing number 1 in April with a " NATTY " means more than being number 1 …..5 games into the season . Although Coach Self shrugged off dropping to number 2 without losing behind Duke …...This weeks poll will show how much the pollsters feel about KU …...The 25 + 1 poll that comes out every Friday random as it may be has Gonzaga 1 Duke 2 ...and KU 3
We just beat the No 5 team in New York will that east coast bias keep Duke ahead of us …..We will see

10 months ago

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Corey Sparks

Mallory, they updated the top 25 and 1 this morning, they moved us up to #1 but only because our resume is better so far.

10 months ago

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Dale Rogers

I thought K.J. gave us some valuable minutes and will be a significant piece of the future.

10 months ago

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Mallory Briggans

I see that Corey as it should be. We have 3 top 40 wins of the 5 games played not a bad start

10 months ago

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Corey Sparks

Not bad at all, especially for such a young team

10 months ago

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Bill Corey

What does the +/- stat on box score mean? I can’t find my Basketball For Dummies

10 months ago

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Daniel Parker

it is a stat that tracks the scoring while a player is on the floor...so, someone with a +7 for example, means that during the time that they were on the court, their team was 7 points better than the other team....a -5 would mean they were 5 points worse during that time.

10 months ago

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Bill Corey

Thanks............

9 months, 4 weeks ago

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Allin Herring

Seems kind of funny to me that Tait and the other KUsports staffers are singing the praise of Dotson now but barely mentioned him in the preseason when it was all Grimes Grimes Grimes!
Dotson has played good since the first game while Grimes after the Michigan State game is trying to find his way in big time college basketball. I am sure he will in time but if he does not start with his defensive abilities real soon Moore may find additional time on the floor. Note I did not mention Garrett as our offense needs all 5 players and with him in the game we are always playing 4 on 5 as he is just too big of a liability.

10 months ago

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Barry Weiss

I agree about Garrett. This game was a grind and we needed all 5 players to try to score. Garrett, to me, would not have been the type player in that game. In a more fast pace game with a team with some quick and prolific scoring guards, yes, then Garrett can certainly help. He really needs to work on a jump shot and his free throws.

10 months ago

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Max Ledom

Are the mods here ever going to block Bryce Landon? The dude is obviously trolling and is no good on these boards. Take some freaking action.

10 months ago

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Steve Zimmerman

Work for kusports. You'll accomplish what you want.

10 months ago

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Dane Pratt

Block Bryce, are you serious? That would leave us without a village idiot. Ban him and we won’t have anyone to laugh at.

9 months, 4 weeks ago

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Joe Ross

No love for the 4-0 Womens' basketball team. Few updates, and as of today--4 games into the new season--last year's schedule still appears on this site.

10 months ago

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