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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Keegan

Tom Keegan: Jayhawks refuse to back down in tough games

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) raises up the KU fanbase during a run by the Jayhawks in the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. At right is Michigan State guard Matt McQuaid (20).

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) raises up the KU fanbase during a run by the Jayhawks in the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. At right is Michigan State guard Matt McQuaid (20).

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— When Kansas guard Frank Mason and Michigan State forward Miles Bridges stood chest-to-chest exchanging boxer’s glares early in the game, nobody in attendance would dispute program listings that showed Bridges with an 8-inch, 40-pound advantage.

But Fearless Frank’s mirror knows better, and so do his teammates.

“My boy Frank’s not going for none of that,” Kansas junior guard Devonte’ Graham said. “He’s not intimidated by anybody. He thinks he can guard LeBron, so nobody’s going to intimidate him.”

The entire team took on that persona and played its best basketball of the season in the final 12 minutes, to bury Michigan State, 90-70, with a 36-17 flurry, including a 21-6 advantage in the final 6:54.

The Jayhawks ran like halfbacks and grunted like fullbacks.

“We’re a tough team,” Graham said. “We’re not going to back down just because you bump us or something like that. We do it to each other all the time in practice. We’re used to it.”

The Jayhawks also are used to grinding out games stuck in the mud by finishing with tough defense and winning by a few points. It appeared that’s where this one was headed.

Michigan State knows how to keep teams from running good offense and the Jayhawks didn’t make it any easier on themselves by displaying itchy trigger fingers. When little was going right, Mason took it upon himself to get into the paint to draw fouls.

Then Josh Jackson heated up, scoring three points at a time the old-fashioned way, with the third coming at the free-throw line, where he is 4 for 4 in the NCAA tournament, and beyond the 3-point semi-circle, where he has made half of his six tournament attempts. Graham pointed to the “MVP” lift Dwight Coleby gave the team and to Landen Lucas’ double-double (10 points and 11 rebounds).

What Graham left unsaid was that he had as much to do with this victory as anybody, throwing so many pinpoint, blink-and-your-missed-them passes on the fly and in the halfcourt for open dunks of the missed and made variety.

Graham consistently draws tough defensive assignments and probably gained as much from the break between the early exit from the Big 12 tournament to the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament.

The break might have revived his 3-point shooting. He made 8-of-13 3-pointers in Tulsa, four of them coming in the second half Sunday, three in the final 4:41, giving Kansas leads of 13 (smile to the crowd), 15 (pounded his chest after a pump-fake, step-back swish) and 20 (good night, turn out the lights).

Graham didn’t wait until his shots dropped to stiff-arm the Spartans’ hopes.

Twice when Michigan State trailed by eight, Graham put the lead back into double figures with beautiful passes to Vick, one on a lob for a dunk, the other a perfectly threaded pass delivered as soon as Vick broke free on the baseline.

Mason, Graham and Jackson finished so aggressively and cleanly, making 10 shots in a row at one point.

Bridges got the better of Jackson early, and Jackson took over late. As expected they both had big games, Jackson with 23, Bridges with 22, and also as expected, KU’s experienced guards made the biggest difference.

Mason and Graham combined for 43 points, nine assists, five steals and just two turnovers.

The Jayhawks turned it over just seven times, a remarkable figure considering the rapid pace at which they played. Fast, clean and tough is a nice blend to have in March, especially for an experienced team playing next week at its home away from home.

“All three of these guys played great,” coach Bill Self said during the post-game press conference, where he was joined by Mason, Graham and Jackson. “They shot it fairly well, but they competed and they defended and they cared about the right things and certainly played unselfish and still got numbers.”

The road gets shorter yet tougher for Kansas, which faces Purdue in a Thursday game at Sprint Center. The Boilermakers won the Big Ten regular season, finishing four games ahead of Michigan State, which finished in a four-way tie for fifth with a 10-8 record.

Purdue has an abundance of size, which Kansas lacks.

“They’re huge,” Graham said. “I watched the game against Iowa State and they execute really well.”

Time will tell if Purdue can beat KU with size. This much already is known: Fear of size won’t kill Kansas, a team packed with competitors too confident to let fear shrink them.

By the Numbers: Kansas 90, Michigan State 70.

By the Numbers: Kansas 90, Michigan State 70.

— See what people were saying about the game during KUsports.com's live coverage.


More news and notes from Kansas vs. Michigan State


Comments

Dirk Medema 6 months ago

Dwight was a key. With Landen in foul trouble they were abusing Carlton until Dwight came in and played more than big. It seems like he is really starting to get his legs back under him again.

He probably plays behind Dok next year but he will give us fabulous minutes. The ability to rest Dok or not worry about foul trouble.

Marius Rowlanski 6 months ago

Coleby played good when needed most. I can see why Coach Self wanted him.

Mike Kendall 6 months ago

Totally agree, Dirk. Dwight--wow--what a great boost off the bench. Hope the starters and Coach Self are patting him on the back or whatever. Josh Jackson--is he playing lights out? Purdue will be a challenge but if we play great defense and make it a track meet, I just don't see how the Makers are going to get by the Jayhawks.

John Strayer 6 months ago

Exactly...If KU can start the game playing the kind of defense they typically through out in the last 10 minutes, then they have a chance to turn it into a track meet. An up and down game is the answer to a dominating opposing big guy...test their conditioning. Of course with NCAA tourney 5 min commercial breaks that gets a bit harder to do. :(

Marius Rowlanski 6 months ago

Josh Jackson is the best freshman I've seen at Kansas since Danny Manning. This kid is phenomenal.

Suzi Marshall 6 months ago

Jackson has officially overtaken the Wiggins and Oubre OAD group for the guy to have contributed the most to KU basketball. It was in this round that both those guys decided to check-out early from their collegiate careers, taking the hopes of the team and fans with them. Crash Jackson, with 23 points,3 rebounds, 2 blocks (at-least) and 2 steals (at-least) now stands alone as the top OAD player ever to wear a Kansas jersey.

Bryce Landon 6 months ago

Maybe it's just me, but it feels like Kansas is playing with more freedom against non-conference foes like MSU than they ever did against Big 12 opponents.

Clarence Haynes 6 months ago

Dwight has the bulk to help Landen contain Swanigan and Haas.

Adam Collins 6 months ago

That photo of Mason and Bridges chest to chest is the epitome of Mason's toughness. It's one of the best photos for KU this year and should be put in Allen Fieldhouse next to Mason's NPOY award for all time.

Craig Alexander 6 months ago

I was looking for that picture online last night after I saw it but then couldn't find it! I loved it. Frank is the man.

Harlan Hobbs 6 months ago

Kudos to the whole team. The usual guys had great games, and Dwight was fantastic off the bench.

I'll only say that the coaching staff is masterful. They have done as much as any staff in the country at instilling toughness, a work ethic, and a sense of pride in donning the uniform.

The life lessons that these young men have learned and are learning will last them a lifetime. I just hope that I can live long enough to see all of the results.

Robert Hunzicker 6 months ago

Kansas played with 5 players Michigan played with 6 (View the photo gallery)

Iam counting IZZO. He was on the court all night long and usually crying to the refs

IZZO & HUGGINS constantly crying and complaining to the refs in every game

Harlan Hobbs 6 months ago

Very true, Robert. You can throw Bruce Weber into that mix, even though he isn't of their stature. I can remember when being out of the coaching box was supposed to be a technical foul. Now, many of them are several feet on the court at times. The referee even bumped into Izzo on one occasion.

Also, during the regular season, many referees seemed "whistle happy" and made a number of what I call "anticipation" calls, especially regarding moving screens at the top of the free throw circle. I swear that MSU made several such screens yesterday with no call whatsoever. Meanwhile, I can't begin to count the number of times during the year that Landen and Carlton were called for it practically before the screen even materialized.

Can't get over how many games have had teams with fouls to give at the end of the half or the game. In the regular season, it seemed like teams were often in the bonus before the 12 minute mark.

Clearly, the priorities change in the tournament, and more physical contact is allowed. Generally speaking, that should work in KU's favor given our lack of depth, so I hope that the refs don't change now. We certainly can't afford to be in serious foul trouble at this stage of the season.

Jonathan Allison 6 months ago

not suggesting that there's any kind of a conspiracy about the way that fouls are called in the NCAAs, but Jaybate used to go on and on about how fewer and fewer fouls were being called for programming purposes in order to make the games fit into the allotted TV times. This is never more critical than in the NCAA tourney when there are multiple games a night in the arena as well as games lined up all day and on 4 different networks. Thus, if there's anything to that suggestion, then the sweet 16 should be no different from a physicality standpoint with 8 games in 2 nights.

I don't know that there's any truth to it though. I think that a lot of it boils down to teams playing much more aggressive basketball over the course of the game and making it harder for the officials to determine fouls from hard play. I think of it as the WVU effect. When KU plays WVU it puts all the pressure on the officiating crew because of the pace and the intensity of the action. They miss more calls, because it's harder to tell when someone is fouled.

Marius Rowlanski 6 months ago

Putting Coach Izzo in the same category as Huggins and Weber just doesn't pass the eye test.

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