Originally published November 24, 2011 at 12:01 a.m., updated November 24, 2011 at 3:19 a.m.
KU coach Bill Self, Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey talk in the postgame press conference following the Jayhawks' 68-61 loss to Duke on Nov. 23, 2011.
Lahaina, Hawaii It’s only November, remember? Don’t forget, college basketball games don’t mean so much this far from March.
That’s why Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, winner of four national championships, flew into a rage when a block-charge call went against his team midway through the second half.
With a viper’s venom, Coach K hollered, “No way!” about eight times at the official who made the call. Then he polled the veteran of the crew and asked him what he thought and flew into another rage when the ref sheepishly told him he thought it was a charge.
It’s just the preseason. No big deal. That’s why when Thomas Robinson ended the very next possession with a bucket and fell to the floor, Kansas University coach Bill Self stomped the floor and hollered at his star power forward, “Get up! Get up!”
Emotions ran high on the floor, in the stands and on both benches throughout Wednesday night’s Maui Invitational title game played in the intimate Lahaina Civic and Recreation Center.
Duke closed much better than Kansas, scoring the game’s final eight points to score a 68-61 victory.
But to adhere to a stereotype and believe that the main reason Duke won this game was because it played smarter basketball than Kansas would be an unfair conclusion.
Duke won primarily because it had more offensive options, a better bench and matched Kansas’ high-octane intensity.
As the second half of a game packed with intensity from wire to wire sped along, each team’s most talented guard lost control of himself.
Duke freshman Austin Rivers slipped into selfish mode and was determined to win this game on his own as his father, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, shook his head from his seat in the Duke family section.
Coach K had seen enough. He had another option in Tyler Thornton, and he sent him in the game for Rivers. It was Thornton who nailed two three-pointers in the final 1:10, the second a shot-clock-beater with 20 seconds left.
Kansas senior guard Tyshawn Taylor, whose quickness and strong will played a huge part in KU taking a 35-31 lead at the half, couldn’t stop throwing the ball away or dribbling it out of bounds or zipping a pass too hard.
When Naadir Tharpe is a sophomore, maybe even before that, Self will feel comfortable putting him in the game to settle down Taylor. Tharpe’s not there yet. Self had no choice but to let his senior stay on the floor and try to lead it to victory.
Instead, Taylor, who in 38 minutes had 17 points and whose defense frustrated Rivers into becoming a solo act, tried to do too much, tried to do too much himself. His 11th turnover came with 56 seconds left and Duke leading by two points.
As for Robinson, the guy to whom Self hollered, “Get up!,” he got up all right. Over and over he got up and ripped the ball off the rim, showing why there isn’t a better defensive rebounder in college basketball. He took two charges, scored 16 points, and had 15 rebounds. He didn’t have his first foul until 35 minutes had been played.
Junior Jeff Withey, a first-year starter, was there to help Robinson. Withey contributed 14 points, 10 rebounds, two blocked shots and a lot of toughness.
Withey, warts and all, is a better player than we could have imagined watching him ride the pine the past two seasons.
Elijah Johnson is ahead of schedule as well and had a terrific tournament. He had the biggest bucket of the victory against Georgetown when he drove to the hoop after Kansas had spread the floor, and he scored 23 points in the semifinal against UCLA.
In the title game, Johnson swished a well-guarded three form beyond the top of the key with 1:33 left.
“Johnson made such a big shot, and it could have knocked you out,” Krzyzewski said.
It might have but for a reserve throwing a left-wing, right-wing combination of threes that knocked out KU, which didn’t get a single point from its bench.
Self summed up the Jayhawks’ feelings, saying they were “extremely disappointed” because they didn’t win the game but rightly added, “We came to the islands, and I do think we got better.”
• A previous version of this story has been updated.