Moments before tip-off, David Dyer was unequivocal about the Jayhawks’ chances in their Elite Eight contest against the Oregon Ducks.
“Ten out of ten,” Dyer said of his confidence level.
The Kansas City, Kan. visitor had hardly gotten the words out of his mouth before University of Kansas freshman phenom Josh Jackson got his second foul. It ended up being that type of night in Downtown Lawrence, where any bar with a good set of TVs was full, but the downtown all evening was a bit like the Jayhawks — far from electric.
Following KU’s 74-60 loss to Oregon in the NCAA Tournament in Kansas City, Mo., fans who had gathered in Downtown Lawrence for what was expected to be a raucous celebration appeared to be leaving the downtown orderly and without incident. There were some expletives, a few tears, and the occasional simple statement or two.
“It is a sad one,” a passerby on Massachusetts said to no one in particular.
It was an unexpected one too. Confidence was high before the 7:49 p.m. tipoff. Why wouldn’t it be? KU had won its previous three games in the NCAA tourney by an average margin of victory of 30 points.
It didn’t take long for the vibe to change. There were the two quick fouls on Jackson. Missed shots by the Crimson and Blue, and plenty of baskets by the team in green. At halftime, standing on the sidewalks of a fairly listless Massachusetts Street, you could hear the voice of TBS play-by-play man Kevin Harlan come through the open windows of the second-story Jazzhaus bar. It sounded a bit too much like a voice from on high: “No 1 is on the ropes,” he said.
KU was down by 11 at half. But the faithful were still rallying.
“This is where Self’s magic comes into play,” Jesse Torneden, Lawrence, said of the KU head coach.
A comeback was still in the cards, many who were taking a smoke break or just catching a breath of fresh air during the break said.
But the question of “could they” nagged.
Just down the street — this being Lawrence and all — there was the longtime hemp activist standing at the corner of Ninth and Massachusetts. His sign this night read “Save Trees. Free Hemp.” Trees are popular in Lawrence, but it seemed more people were worried about saving a season.
The worry kicked into a new gear shortly after the second half began. At the 14-minute mark of the second half the TBS broadcast flashed a graphic that KU was shooting 20 percent in the second half. At about the 13:50 mark, Jackson missed two free throws. He was still scoreless on the evening.
The lead grew to 18 at one point in the second half. The Jayhawks cut it down to six points with about three minutes to play. A few people gathered at an outdoor party in the vacant lot next to The Granada could be heard saying “They’ve done this all year.”
But a botched rebound, some missed shots, a timely three by Oregon, and the comeback chatter faded away. All that was left was for fans to process it.
“It is ridiculously shocking,” said Nik Stavropoulos, who was in downtown from Kansas City, Mo. “We were destroying people coming into this game. We could not buy a bucket tonight.”
A No. 1 ranking, a likely one-and-done freshman standout, and perhaps the player-of-the-year in Frank Mason were all on Kansas’ side.
“I wish one guy could win an NCAA tournament because that guy deserves it,” Torneden said of Mason, who finished with 21 points.
Mason is a senior, so KU fans are left just with his memory now. They’re also left with memories of KU’s 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season championship, and the red-hot three-game stretch in the NCAA tournament, which statistically really was one of the best three-game runs in tournament history.
But that last memory may also serve as a reminder: Every game is a new beginning.
— See what people were saying about the game during KUsports.com's live coverage.