Jayhawks escape against Wildcats with 62-58 win in Manhattan

The Kansas State Wildcats did everything they could to stop the Kansas Jayhawks’ 14 game winning streak on Saturday in Manhattan, but a heroic performance from sophomore guard Devon Dotson and just enough defense down the stretch fended off the upset bid.

According to KenPom, the Jayhawks entered Saturday’s tilt with the most efficient defense in the country and a top-10 offense. Meanwhile, the Wildcats ranked 179th in offensive efficiency. The play didn’t match the paper for most of the game, however.

Kansas State went into halftime trailing by just one point, then took the lead on the first possession of the second half. The Wildcats held that lead until the 13:16 mark of the second half, when a Dotson layup knotted the score. Just over six minutes later, though, KU took the lead for good, with Dotson hitting a pair of free throws to put the Jayhawks ahead.

“I thought he was great, I think he’s been great all year,” senior guard Isaiah Moss said about Dotson. “It was exactly what we needed.”

Dotson ended up being the only player for Kansas to score in double figures, ending up with 25 points on 8-of-11 shooting with an 8-of-8 effort from the free throw line.

Kansas coach Bill Self spoke after the game about how vital Dotson’s offensive contributions were on a day when no one else was able to get in a consistent rhythm for the Jayhawks.

“[Senior center Udoka Azubuike] got a lot of credit, deservedly so, last week,” Self said, adding that Azubuike had other players creating opportunities for him on offense. “Dot gets 25 on his own for the most part … I thought that was huge, what he did.”

For K-State’s Bruce Weber, Dotson’s effect on the game goes beyond just scoring and deals with his ability to contribute in multiple facets.

“The thing is he makes the right play,” Weber said, also mentioning Dotson’s decision making. “He can score, he can get down hill … You got a guy like that, it’s elite speed.”

This was Dotson’s ninth game with 20+ points this season and his third with at least 25.

As Self mentioned, his point guard’s offense was the only consistent positive on the end for the Jayhawks. The Wildcats defended well, with Weber specifically pointing out how they disrupted junior guard Marcus Garrett on offense.

Azubuike was quiet for the most part this weekend in several ways. He scored just six points on 2-of-4 shooting and didn’t add much in general, per Self. A literal quietness fell over the crowd at Bramlage Coliseum early in the first half when Azubuike landed on K-State senior forward Xavier Sneed’s foot, causing him to roll his ankle and end up in a heap on the floor.

Self joked about the severity of the injury at first glance, but added that Azubuike is expected to be OK.

Sneed and his fellow upperclassmen had big days scoring the ball for K-State, something the Wildcats haven’t seen consistently all season. He and senior forward Makol Mawien each scored 13 points while junior guard Cartier Diarra tacked on a team-high 15.

“When your best players play well, it makes it a lot easier as a coach,” Weber said.

Despite the solid point totals, down the stretch K-State still struggled to make plays in some of the game’s most crucial moments. Diarra played much of the game in foul trouble, which created opportunities for his teammates to step up.

Weber bemoaned the fact that not enough of his players did.

“We just had bad possessions,” Weber said. “We just needed somebody else to step up, to make a shot, to make a play.”

One player who stepped up when the Jayhawks needed it was freshman guard Christian Braun. With 4:53 to play, Kansas leading by two and no points scored by either team in two minutes, Braun hit a three to extend the lead. He followed the shot with his patented bow and arrow celebration in front of the K-State student section.

“I thought Braun’s three was really important,” Weber said. “That was a big bucket. Got it to five and it was tough to come back after that.”

That was the only three pointer Kansas made in the second half, and all six of Braun’s points came on two of the four makes from deep KU had all game.

The impact of that shot resonated with everyone KU as well.

“It changed the rhythm of the game,” Dotson said.

In two appearances versus K-State Braun has come up with big performances both times. Along with the clutch three in Manhattan, he came up with a career-high 20 points in the first Sunflower Showdown of the year in Lawrence.

Self mentioned Braun alongside the likes of former K-State standout Dean Wade as players who have come up in big moments in this rivalry.

“I thought Christian played great,” Self said. “I don’t know that it means more, but it may get his juices flowing just to have an opportunity in an in-state rivalry.”

Even though he admitted that it was a poor game offensively for both teams, Self reflected positively on getting another Big 12 road win. Weber, on the other hand, expressed disappointment that K-State came up short at home again.

“It’s disappointing,” Weber said. “We’re solid defensively, but obviously not good enough, especially in this league. They got one last chance … I hope to honor those seniors, Xavier and our other guys, I hope they come with a great mindset and ready to play.”

After the game the impact of KU’s win became more apparent when, in Ft. Worth, Texas, the TCU Horned Frogs upset the second-ranked Baylor Bears 75-72. With that result, Kansas now has a full one-game lead on Baylor for first place in the Big 12 and is in position for the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 Championship.

Kansas State, at 2-14 in conference play, has clinched the 10 seed in the tournament.

The Jayhawks will wrap up their home schedule on Wednesday night against the Horned Frogs, then will close the regular season on Saturday against the Texas Tech Red Raiders. The Wildcats will go on the road Wednesday to face Oklahoma State, then will host their senior day on Saturday versus Iowa State.