LAWRENCE — Whenever Texas Tech was within striking distance, it was the Jayhawks’ best player Devon Dotson who answered the call.
The Charlotte native executed a behind-the-back dribble move that shook Tech’s TJ Holyfield, allowing Dotson to score a wide-open layup to put the Jayhawks up 74-68 with just over 2 minutes to go in the All-Conference matchup.
But the Red Raiders made it arduous. Holyfield drained a 3 to put Texas Tech within five points (76-71). Holyfield was fouled, and the starting forward hit both free throws. With the score at 76-73, Kansas culminated with an empty possession before Tech’s Jahmi’us Ramsey hit a layup to put the score 76-75 Kansas with 20 seconds to go.
On the ensuing possession Ochai Agbaji was fouled, and the Oak Park High School graduate splashed two at the charity stripe, which put the score at 78-75 – the final score Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse after Texas Tech (13-8, 4-4) failed to score after Ramsey missed a layup in traffic. Raucous cheers erupted from the Jayhawk faithful in a packed Allen Fieldhouse.
Dotson, a third-team All-Big 12 player, finished the game with 21 points, his fourth 20-point game in eight games, and six rebounds. Marcus Garrett had 15 points and five rebounds, while Isaiah Moss put up 12 points and Agbaji finished the contest with 11 points and five boards.
“You kind of don’t want teams to build a lot of confidence in this arena. That’s how teams beat us, so if I see them make a run, if I see an opening, I’m a make a quick burst and just be aggressive and put the ball in the hole,” Dotson said after the game. “I just wanted to get the win at the end of the day and I’m happy we did.”
It looked at first as if the game would be an easy sixth win in a row for the No. 3 team in the nation. Dotson imposed his will early after scoring an easy layup in the beginning of the game. With the score 8-0 after that play, Agbaji swished a 3 with 15:26 left in the first half to make the score 13-2.
Playing a more composed and efficient game at the start, KU put the score to 22-10 before another television timeout.
Tech’s Ramsey highlighted the reasons he was the Dallas Morning News SportsDay Player of the Year last year. Ramsey used his quick bursts to get to the rim for buckets, and opened up an executed three-pointer to make the score 26-22 in the middle of the first half.
Ramsey’s play, which included a lot of hesitation dribbles and crossovers en route to the rim, galvanized the seventh best team in the Big 12. The 6’4” guard registered a game-high 26 points, while Holyfield racked up 19 and eight boards.
Still, Dotson’s pacing, assertiveness to hit crucial baskets, and overall leadership kept KU out in front. Dotson said after the game that his favorite play was when he hit David McCormack off a pick and roll for an alley-oop slam to make the score 63-55 with 7:32 left in the game.
The next possession, Dotson stole the ball before his compatriot Christian Braun, a Blue Valley Northwest graduate, hit a 3 to make the score 66-55 with 6:51 to go in the game. KU would hold on to the wire-to-wire win thanks to defense.
KU head coach Bill Self, a 2008 national champion and in his 17th year at the university, spoke about the ways his offense was productive throughout the night.
“We didn’t have any low-post block scoring and we had to get Dot (Dotson) and Marcus (Garrett) downhill multiple times, but that was the biggest thing for us offensively is trying to get those two downhill. They did a good job. Tech’s good defensively and they guarded the stuff we ran even though we’re not going to run the stuff great, usually we don’t have an inside presence, but I thought that those two guys did a great job of getting downhill,” Self said.
KU’s guards did such a great job that they didn’t commit any charges.
Defensively, the 6’10” McCormack, who returned for the first time since serving his two-game suspension for the Kansas State University brawl, stepped up his rim protection from the first half to the second. By the end of the game, he was in the middle of the barricade that halted Tech’s Ramsey from getting a good look in the middle of the paint; he had three blocks on the game.
KU held Tech to 42 percent shooting from the field and beyond the arc. KU shot 51 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3.
Tech’s head coach Chris Beard, who got his coaching start at Fort Scott Community College in 1999, said defense was the factor.
“I thought the difference in the game from where I was sitting and standing was the blocked shots (9),” Beard said. “We talked about having a drop stop, two-foot game. We wanted to play a low turnover game (9), which we got done, but we wanted to put those blocked shots in categories of turnovers. Because to get your shot blocked against Kansas, they’re going to transition on you. Other than that, I thought our guys played a clean game.”
Chris Clark, the No. 8 graduate transfer in the nation, played limited minutes due to a nagging ankle injury and Kevin McCullar didn’t play due to concussion protocol.
Silvio De Sousa is serving a 12-game suspension for his involvement in the KSU brawl on Jan. 21. Garrett has a foot injury that kept him out of practice last week despite playing for nearly 35 minutes versus Tech. Self said his foot will nag until Kansas rests for a few days consecutively.
Kansas (18-3, 7-1) will continue the season and eventually look to improve upon last year’s first Sweet 16 loss since 2003 when they play TCU (13-8, 4-4) Saturday on the road, after going against Texas at home on Monday.