Short-handed Jayhawks outlast Vols in Big 12/SEC Challenge, 74-68

Tuesday, January 28, 2020
Kansas Jayhawks' sophomore point guard Devon Dotson steps to the free throw line with 32.7 seconds remaining in regulation, during Saturday's 74-68 victory at Allen Fieldhouse over the Tennessee Volunteers.
Photo by Matt Resnick | Daily Mail

Lawrence, Kan. —Playing in front of their 300th consecutive sellout crowd at Allen Fieldhouse Saturday afternoon the No. 3 ranked Kansas Jayhawks outlasted the Tennessee Volunteers in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, 74-68.

Coming in short-handed due to the suspensions of big-men David McCormack and Silvio De Sousa from the previous game's brawl, the Jayhawks were lifted by dominant performances from point guard Devon Dotson and center Udoka Azubuike. The star inside-out duo combined for 40 points on a sparkling 61 percent shooting (14-of-23) from the field. Additionally, sophomore swingman Ochai Agbaji chipped in 16 points, including 3-of-7 from long-range.

Kansas (17-3 overall) trailed by seven with 6:07 remaining in the first half. The Jayhawks responded after a timeout called by Kansas head coach Bill Self, going on a 12-0 blitz, punctuated by back-to-back Azubuike dunks for a 31-26 KU advantage, and eventual 37-30 halftime edge.

KU's first points of the second half came via Marcus Garrett's alley-oop pass to a soaring Agbaji for the thunderous slam. That was followed by an Azubuike breakaway jam as the Jayhawks led, 41-32. Two possessions later Azubuike was hammered on a dunk, completing the traditional three-point play and handing Kansas its biggest lead of the game at 44-32.

Tennessee trimmed the deficit to eight, but an Agbaji trey and Dotson bucket stretched Kansas' lead back to 13 (55-42) at the 14 minute mark.

Azubuike was whistled for his third foul with 12:33 remaining in regulation, and the Vols began to chip away. With the elite big-man relegated to the bench Tennessee capped off a 12-3 run via Yves Pons' two-handed jam, and trailed 58-54 near the midpoint of the half.

Azubuike re-entered the game at the 10 minute mark but was quickly whistled for a ticky-tack foul and found himself back on the bench.

Dotson continued to deliver, blowing by defenders to account for the Jayhawks' next six points and a 64-56 lead with 6:52 remaining.

Azubuike re-entered the game with 4:31 remaining and Kansas clinging to a three-point lead. Just 12 seconds later Azubuike was intentionally fouled, and sent to the line for a 1-and-1. A 42 percent free throw shooter this season, Azubuike calmly knocked down both shots, putting Kansas in front, 68-63.

The Vols didn't go quietly, as a John Fulkerson jumper sliced the deficit to 69-66 with 2:15 remaining. On the ensuing possession Azubuike was sent back to the charity stripe, where he connected on 1-of-2 for a 70-66 KU lead.

Leading by five with 40 seconds remaining, an Azubuike swat of a Fulkerson attempt in the paint, followed by Dotson and Agbaji charity makes, sealed the victory.

"I feel like we didn't play our best game," Dotson told the Daily Mail during the postgame press conference, adding that he would give the team a C-grade for the performance.

"I feel like we could have been way better on the defensive end, with the switches and cross-screens," Dotson continued. And, we could have been better on the offensive end. I feel like we can really learn from this game."

In response to a question where Dotson was informed he was the No. 1 ranked player in the country according to college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy's elaborate ratings index, Dotson said that he wasn't too concerned about it.

"My concern is this team, and winning," said Dotson, who in addition to his 22 points contributed seven assists, three rebounds, and two steals. "My main goal as the point guard out there is winning, and helping my guys as much as possible. So, I don't look at that (individual) stuff. I look at wins and losses."

Postgame, Self discussed Dotson's blazing speed and lightning-quick first-step.

"He's harder to guard than you think. Because when his feet are even with you — he's ahead of you," Self explained. "He got even with some guys, and was then able to explode past them. Which is certainly a credit to his ability to change directions, change speed."

In 27 minutes of action Azubuike tallied 18 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocks, while finishing 6-of-7 from the field. Additionally, Azubuike concluded 6-of-11 from the charity stripe.

"I don't know if I'd call it 'hack-a-Shaq', I'd call it playing the percentages," Tennessee head coach, Rick Barnes said of his late-game fouling strategy, which he said he went to only once. "He's not going to miss those (close-range looks), he will put you, and the ball, in the basket."

Self commended his prized big-man on his clutch free throw shooting.

"Very subtly that might have been the biggest play of the game," Self said, referring to Azubuike draining a pair of free throws on the 1-and-1 to give Kansas a five-point cushion with just over four minutes remaining in the contest. "Because it gave him confidence after making those two to go knock a couple more down. Dok has worked so hard on his free throws. I feel now that he could be a 60 or 70 percent free throw shooter."

Self discussed Azubuike's performance. "Overall, it's very obvious we are not the same team with him not in the game — we need him in the game."

Down McCormack and De Sousa, Self tinkered with 6-foot-8 freshman, and Netherlands native, Tristan Enaruma at center while Azubuike was on the bench with foul trouble.

"I thought we could play Tristan at the 'five', but that didn't work out," Self noted. "That lineup that played without (Azubuike) for eight to 12 minutes had never been on the court together at the same time."

Self touched on Azubuike's elite-level defensive prowess.

"On a national-scale with bigs, I can't imagine there's anyone out there that's better defensively than what Dok is," said the 17th-year Kansas head coach. "I think Dok, to me, is as good of defender as there is."

Jayhawks' sophomore Ochai Agbaji fields a question during the postgame press conference.
Photo by Matt Resnick | Daily Mail

When asked about his squad's mind-set in the wake of the Sunflower Showdown melee, Self said he fully expected his squad to be ready to roll against Tennessee.

"I thought it was a pretty blah performance, when I thought we would be really, really turned up," he said. "And the other thing, I'm tired. The whole things is, if I am, they probably are too. So getting out of here with a 'W' was probably just what we needed."

Summed up Self: "We did enough good things to win, but certainly, it wasn't the prettiest. And I'm not leaving out of here elated in any other way, other than we just won the game."

Big 12/SEC Challenge results

• No. 3 Kansas 74, Tennessee 68; No. 1 Baylor 72, Florida 61; No. 14 West Virginia 74, Mizzou 51; No. 15 Kentucky 76, Texas Tech 74 (OT); No. 16 Auburn 80, Iowa State 76; LSU 69, Texas 67; Oklahoma 63, Mississippi State 62; Oklahoma State 73, Texas A&M 62; Arkansas 78, TCU 67; Alabama 77, Kansas State 74

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