MIAMI — All the attention was inside. Devonte’ Graham made sure it didn’t stay there very long.
With Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot saddled to the bench with foul trouble in the first half, all eyes were on walk-on Clay Young to see if he could hold his own at the five-spot. Perhaps they should’ve instead been on the electric senior, who erupted for 35 points and five assists in the Jayhawks’ 76-60 win over Syracuse.
Graham’s start to the game was quiet. Early on he was content to facilitate as Lagerald Vick sparked the offense and then Svi Mykhailiuk came to life, putting in eight points in rapid succession.
To that point, Graham’s only points were on a layup off an offensive rebound two minutes into the game. He next point — a free-throw after a Syracuse technical — came with 5:16 to play in the half.
View a gallery of images from the Jayhawks' matchup against The Orange on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017 at American Airlines Arena in Miami.
He poured in KU’s next 13 points after that, as the Jayhawks headed to the half up 14.
KU continued to roll into the second half, at one point stretching the lead out to 21. Syracuse began to close the gap, cutting the lead down to seven, but Graham stabilized things, scoring 19 second-half points and setting up an emphatic one-handed Vick slam with a lob from the top of the arc.
Overall, the Jayhawks had three players score in double-figures. Vick finished second on the team with 20 while Mykhailiuk (11) added a late 3 to get over the 10-point mark.
Here’s a quick look back at some of the action:
• The game turned when: Clay Young checked in — really.
After Udoka Azubuike picked up two fouls and Mitch Lightfoot was tabbed for his second going for an offensive rebound, Young entered the game and was forced to guard the 7-foot-2 Paschal Chukwu.
Young did his part well, forcing him and Orange big man Sidibe Bourama into a pair of turnovers. The two remained scoreless from the field throughout the entire first half, while the other way the KU offense came to life and pushed the lead out to double-figures.
• Offensive highlight: KU’s early attempts to figure out the zone resulted in several long jumpers, but about three-and-a-half minutes into the game, the Jayhawks perfectly executed on a lob to excite the droves of KU fans in attendance.
Malik Newman had the ball on the wing and swung it to Graham at the top of the key. Graham faked like he was going up for a shot and instead lobbed it to Lagerald Vick, who slammed it in with a ferocious look.
Vick, who struggled shooting the ball last game, was a source of early offense on Saturday, scoring nine of the Jayhawks’ first 11 points. He finished the game with 20 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in 37 minutes.
• Defensive highlight: The KU big men didn’t have too many spare fouls to give, so every time the whistle blew inside there was an audible gasp from the pro-KU portion of the crowd. At least twice in the first half, though, that gasp was followed by applause, seeing the referee point toward the other direction.
After picking up his first foul just seconds after checking into the game, Lightfoot actually drew a pair of fouls, twice establishing post position and drawing a charge on a Syracuse player.
Lightfoot would pick up his second but Young took over afterward, setting his feet and adding to KU's charges drawn total with less than two minutes to play in the half.
• Key stat: Young’s first-half minutes were perhaps as important as any player’s in the period.
While Young didn’t tally a single point, rebound, block or steal, his minutes were crucial in the Jayhawks not only hanging around in the first half, but actually extending their lead, too.
Young finished the first half a +13 from the floor, meaning the Jayhawks actually outscored Syracuse 22-9 in his minutes.
Young may have not been the biggest contributor to that total — literally or figuratively — but he helped spark the run with his hard-nosed defensive play and screening and passing offensively, at one point setting up Mykhailiuk for a wide open 3 with a well-exeuted pump fake from the baseline.
• Up next: The Jayhawks will return home — sort of. KU will next face off against Washington Wednesday at 8 p.m. That game will take place at Sprint Center, where the Jayhawks’ 2016-17 season came to an end at the hands of Oregon.