Kansas guard Devon Dotson shared a laugh with Kansas State counterpart Cartier Diarra at mid-court as the final seconds ticked own on the top-ranked Jayhawks' nip-and-tuck victory at Bramlage Coliseum on Saturday.
Talk about a different ending from their game in Allen Fieldhouse last month.
In their first meeting since the Jayhawks and Wildcats took a brawl into the stands, Dotson poured in 25 points to help Kansas absorb the loss of bruising center Udoka Azubuike for long stretches, and the Jayhawks held on down the stretch for a 62-58 victory Saturday that gave them sole possession of first place in the Big 12.
“That's my boy. We talk pretty often,” Dotson said, when asked about the chuckle during game-ending foul shots. “I think it's great. There wasn't any big back-and-forth. It was a really tough game, a good game. It was good for the fans.”
It was even better for the Jayhawks (26-3, 15-1) when No. 2 Baylor lost to TCU to give them a one-game lead in the league.
“That made us play a lot better,” Kansas coach Bill Self said with a smile. “It goes to show you that when teams are turned up and play with an edge, different things can happen."
Azubuike finished with six points and nine rebounds while playing just 20 minutes after hurting his ankle in the opening minutes. David McCormack came off the bench to score nine points in his place, helping Kansas (26-3, 15-1) edge closer to clinching at least a share of another Big 12 championship.
“You know, he came back and played, although he wasn't effective. He came back and played,” Self said of his All-America candidate, who was coming off a big week in wins over Baylor and Oklahoma State. “I imagine he'll be fine.”
Diarra scored 15 points and Xavier Sneed and Makol Mawien had 13 apiece for the Wildcats (9-20, 2-14), who were held scoreless for nearly 5 1/2 minutes late in the game. That allowed Kansas to score eight straight points and break open a 48-all game, then hang on for its 11th win in the last 12 meetings.
“We were ready to play,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. “We competed.”
As for any lingering tempers from January, they evaporated when the teams met at mid-court after the National Anthem and shook hands. It was the final act in putting behind them their brawl, when several punches were thrown and Jayhawks big man Silvio De Sousa — who is still serving a suspension — nearly swung a stool at a Kansas State player.
“Obviously the first one ended in a not-a-special moment. We wanted to make sure this one started with a positive moment,” Weber said, “and we can move forward now. Worry about the game and how it's played.”
The Jayhawks quickly ran out to a nine-point lead once the game tipped, but their momentum slowed when Azubuike hit the deck holding his right ankle with 16 minutes to go in the half. Team trainers spent a couple of minutes with the 7-footer before helping him to the locker room, and Kansas State took advantage of his absence to whittle into the lead.
Azubuike returned with 9 minutes to go, but the Jayhawks couldn't shake the Wildcats and led just 35-34 at the break.
They finally went ahead for the first time since the opening minute early in the second half, and Weber's crew even pushed the lead to four points on a couple occasions. But despite Azubuike still hobbling around, the Jayhawks drew back even a couple minutes later, and it was still 48-all when Dotson hit two foul shots with 6:54 to go.
The Jayhawks, who at that point were 3 of 13 from beyond the arc, finally got a 3-pointer from Christian Braun to stretch the lead. Then, after Mike McGuirl missed a 3 at the other end, Dotson drove the lane as the shot clock wound down and got a leaning layup to go while getting fouled — he made it to stretch the lead to 56-48 at the final media timeout.
The Wildcats finally put an end to the 8-0 run when Diarra got a layup to go with 2:30 left, but the Jayhawks kept coming up with answers down the stretch, allowing them to hang on for their ninth consecutive road win.
“I didn't think either team played particularly well offensively,” Self said. “I thought both teams guarded. We did rebound the ball. Our first-shot defense was pretty good. That gave us a chance.”
Kansas struggled the entire way with turnovers, and Marcus Garrett had a particularly rough afternoon. The starting guard had three of them and didn't make a field goal until his layup made it 60-52 with 1:20 left. But the Jayhawks showed their veteran poise when the game got close, and that should pay off when March Madness rolls around.
Kansas State hung with the Jayhawks the entire way despite Diarra playing with four fouls down the stretch and a massive disadvantage on the boards. The Wildcats did it by capitalizing off turnovers and hitting timely 3s, even though they were similarly sloppy on offense and struggled at the foul line.
Kansas returns home for Senior Night on Wednesday against TCU.
Kansas State visits Oklahoma State in its road finale Wednesday night.