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Originally published March 26, 2017 at 12:10a.m., updated March 26, 2017 at 12:00a.m.

Keegan

Tom Keegan: Despite finale, Devonté Graham one of many winners for KU

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) tries to pull the Jayhawks together during the second half on Saturday, March 25, 2017 at Sprint Center.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) tries to pull the Jayhawks together during the second half on Saturday, March 25, 2017 at Sprint Center.

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— Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey was at the free-throw line, about to put the finishing touches on his seventh consecutive 20-point performances with his 26th and 27th points Saturday night.

The scoreboard showed 45 seconds remained in a Kansas season that for the sake of reality ended earlier than that. The sort of quiet that only shock can bring settled over the Sprint Center.

Frank Mason III stood near the half-court line, his eyes welling, his face breaking as he struggled to recapture a stone-faced expression that was part of what made him such a fan favorite. 

Devonte’ Graham, the happiest face in college basketball, stood about 10 feet in front of Mason, his expression uncharacteristically empty.

It’s a shame the arena was so still at that point because a man wearing a blue shirt that covered his black heart took the opportunity to lean over the wall that separates the first row of seats from press row and unloaded with words that Graham never should have had to hear after the season he had, and the tremendous three games he played to help Kansas get to the brink of the Final Four.

“Hey, Devonte’,” the man hollered. “You might want to think about coming back after that one. Come on, come back, and let’s do it next year.”

What a delightful recruiting pitch. Graham’s a born winner who has a bright future, so he’ll be fine whatever he decides to do, whether he books early to try to start an NBA career or returns for one more year of seasoning.

Either way, I hope he knows that the bitter voice said everything about one person’s psychological state, nothing about him, and stood in contrast to the majority of disappointed fans who watched Oregon take it to Kansas, 74-60, to earn a spot in the Final Four. The majority stood and expressed gratitude with gentle applause as the Kansas players made their way off the court, a gesture of thanks for a highly entertaining season that fell one game short of the sport’s grandest stage.

Graham made 13 of 22 3-point shots in the first three tournament victories in which Kansas averaged 96 points and won by a combined 96 points.

Graham missed all seven shots from the field and was 0-for-6 from 3-point range. The Jayhawks made just 5 of 25 3-pointers. Oregon had a great deal to do with those atypical numbers.

The Ducks’ matchup zone befuddled Kansas, which put up far more well-guarded, rushed 3-pointers than the open ones they usually take.

“Their little matchup zone was big for them because we really couldn’t get into a flow and didn’t know what to run against it,” Graham said.

Hesitation was foreign to the Jayhawks until Oregon planted it in their minds.

“They’ve got a good team,” Graham said. “That matchup zone that they play kind of slows people down, because you don’t know whether to run man plays or zone plays. Then they’ve got the shot-blocker (Jordan Bell, 11 points, 13 rebounds, eight blocked shots), so they do a good job of using their athleticism. . . . They did a good job of passing guys off, no matter what we were running, so we couldn’t really get into a good offensive flow that we usually do.”

Oregon coach Dana Altman pointed to the same factors as did Graham in explaining his rough shooting night.

“We didn’t let him take easy shots,” Altman said. “When he came into the paint, Jordan was sending him back. They were taking tough shots and when you do that, it’s tough to get it going.”

The loss denied Mason, who scored 17 first-half points, including a late stretch of 15 straight of KU’s, a trip to the Final Four and dropped Kansas coach Bill Self’s record in Elite Eight games 2-5 at KU and 2-7 overall.

Self addressed Oregon’s tendency to change defenses in the course of games during a Friday press conference.

“The biggest thing I think we have to do offensively is not think, and play,” Self said. “If you have to come down every time and say, ‘OK, let's study, what are they in?’ you've lost your momentum and your pace. We will encourage our guys to play and whatever we're doing, just do it, whatever they're in.”

The “just do it,” approach worked splendidly for Kansas all season, but didn’t get it done against Nike’s flagship university in a game that got off on the wrong foot for KU when Josh Jackson was called for a phantom second foul with 17:23 left in the first half. The whistle led to Jackson untucking his jersey and slapping a chair on the bench. He returned to the game, but didn’t play his signature disruptive defense until the second half and scored all of his 10 points in the final 11:23.

Jackson was limited to 10 first-half minutes and couldn’t play with his typical defensive fury for his seven-plus minutes with two fouls in the first half. Without that, Kansas didn’t have athleticism inside to keep up with Bell.

Jackson’s foul trouble and Oregon’s matchup zone turned the Ducks into the faster team for a while, an unthinkable development based on how Kansas sprinted through the first round.

“We played kind of tight,” Graham said. “I felt we didn’t play as loose as we had been.”

Winners don’t win every game and this team had some serious winners, tireless competitors who fell one game short. It’s natural for everyone to feel disappointed. It’s unnatural for someone to lean over the wall and send nasty words in the direction of a player who on this night didn’t play for the winning team for just the fifth time in 36 games. What a shame he felt compelled to rub salt in emotional wounds.

By the Numbers: Oregon 74, Kansas 60

By the Numbers: Oregon 74, Kansas 60

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


More news and notes from Kansas vs. Oregon


Comments

Suzi Marshall 8 months, 3 weeks ago

It will be really hard to replace Mason next year. Never have I been more proud of a Kansas basketball player. He gave his heart and soul to the end. Tonight vs Oregon he reminded me of a soldier carrying the flag enduring heavy fire and taking serious wounds but keeps up the attack carrying the flag high even when the rest of the unit falls behind. Mason will always be held in the highest regard amongst Kansas fans.

Steve Johnson 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Mason was awesome, Graham choked big time and cost us a final 4 Love him but he didn't show up

Don Everett 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Steve - you, in my humble opinion, CHOKED with this comment about Devonte. Of course, you may be perfect, I'm not sure. You may also be 21 years old and have the pressure Devonte had, I'm not sure. If you are perfect and have always performed flawlessly under pressure, then please accept my apologies. If you are not perfect and have failed at least once in your lifetime as a 21 year old in front of millions of people, then SHUT THE HELL UP!!!!

RJ King 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Oh please. You are no better than the a-hole in the blue shirt.

Sarah Carr 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I've watched a LOT of KU hoops in my 67 years on the planet. But, I've never been as sad to say goodbye to any player, as I am with Frank Mason III.
Thank you young buck - I love you man! RCJH forever!

Sarah Carr 8 months, 3 weeks ago

And thank you, too, to Landen and Tyler - I'll miss you both! DeVonte' I hope your future plans include giving your Senior speech at AFH next spring! Thanks to Josh who's got a fantastic future out there!

Mike Kendall 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I echo your thoughts, Sarah. Mason will be missed. I hope someone can step up next year. It was a heck of ride, Jayhawks! Thanks. RCJH

Tracey Graham 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Maybe you had to have heard the tone of voice used, because I'm not sure how a fan asking Devonte' to return for his senior season to try and win a national title is rude or mean? It's not like he said Devonte cost them the game or something like that.

I'm going to miss Frank and Landen and Tyler. All three appear to be great guys who represented KU basketball and the school in general, so well.

Frank's shoes are going to be hard to fill, but Devonte' has the ability to do it if he returns. He struggled big time against Oregon, but he has shown that he is a good shooter and a good playmaker. And underneath that happy go lucky exterior seems to be a guy who really wants to win. He would be a different type of leader than Frank, but that's ok.

RJ King 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Regarding your first paragraph - pretty sure there was some tone.

And even if not, the arena was quiet, and the man sensed an opportunity to call out Graham in front of 18,000 people. The comment sounds MUCH more like a dressing down than any sort of compliment.

I am disgusted with the lack of class shown by so many of our "fans." They need to get over themselves and appreciate the work and effort these kids have given.

Doug Merrill 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I am guessing the tone of voice was important but the words sucked, just as the writer above using "choked" as if Devonte wasn't up to the challenge. Those of us who sat in Louisville last year saw Devonte's play as the only thing between us and a 30 point blow out by Villanova. He is a superb player who could not get shots to fall. He was joined by many others who could not either. Had we hit our threes, the middle would have been open. Had they not hit their threes, we would not have had to rely on rushed shooting. Devonte didn't "choke" - a meaningless word that reflects a lack of understanding of the game and the import of good opposing play. Same problem for the guy in the stands, is my guess. Sorry that our fanbase includes such people.

Bill Pitcher 8 months, 3 weeks ago

It would be wonderful if Devonte returned, absolutely terrific, as well as every other team-member not graduating.

Unhappy people transfer their troubles to sports, using their heroes' victories to thumb their noses at what- or whoever's aggravating them, and turning on sports teams and athletes when their heroes lose. Never more so is that true than during the NCAA tournament, a made-for-media, spin-the-bottle lottery in which all but one team loses thereby driving fans to clicks, eyeballs, YouTube spectacles and public ranting, i.e., exactly what nourishes the media financially. And then we all do it again next year.

This year's team provided a wealth of excitement and success. They were a lot of fun to watch, played with energy and skill, and represented our university very well. Frank, in particular, served up lasting memories, but all of the athletes were a joy. This was one of my favorite seasons of all; I loved nearly every minute, even at an end that highlighted our classy coaching staff and players. If more guys return than are expected to leave, it will just perpetuate what has been a fabulous, multi-decade run of success. I'll be there at AFH or watching on TV. And smiling.

RJ King 8 months, 3 weeks ago

There is not a font size large enough for an "AMEN" here. Your second paragraph says it all.

Craig Alexander 8 months, 3 weeks ago

There is no tone in which that comment is okay after a game like that. We know he will think about going and the unfortunate part is that people like that will be one of the reasons he leaves. He has given to this program and yes we would like him back, but being a chump doesn't help. He is a kid that played tight last night. Mason could perform because to him he was there to work just like he worked his butt off during the offseason and all year. Devonte could learn something from Frank but Devonte is a reason we won a lot of games this year too. You could tell he got tighter and gun shy as the night went on. Be a decent human being to a kid that has played his heart out for us.

If he feels like he wants to go then we should respect that. Being years older than them we can see that not all dream jobs work out perfectly and that a degree for him would give him a lifeline. If scouts see him play and then say he might be in the first round, he will be gone. I would welcome both he and Svi back next year but also appreciate everything they have done so far. They have earned our respect and we should give that to them.

Harlan Hobbs 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Not much to add, but I'll try.

KU's players and coaches are still the classiest act in town! Disappointment? Yes, but regrets, No.

You lace them up and give it your best shot, and no fan has the right to point fingers at anyone because none of us has been in their shoes, or likely would want to be. We have it easy in that all we have to do is sit back and watch, and then in some cases act like ours are the only feelings which matter.

I decided a long time ago that, if the only way to consider the season a success is to win it all, then I have relegated myself to a very unhappy existence, at least as far as basketball is concerned. I refuse to do so.

Thanks players and coaches for a job well done all season. I have enjoyed watching this team grow and overcome many obstacles and will always consider them to be one of the best ever.

Aaron Paisley 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I fully expected those comments made to Graham to be much worse than what they were as I read the article. I don't see how this is a blackhearted comment, “Hey, Devonte’,” the man hollered. “You might want to think about coming back after that one. Come on, come back, and let’s do it next year.”

Quite frankly, I hope that's how Devonte feels because I want him to come back and redeem himself after that embarrassing performance he had last night.

Doug Merrill 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Aaron, you have perfectly missed the point. He should be embarrassed about NOTHING. He played hard against a strong defense and missed his shots, after a lights out tournament x 3 games. He should come back if he enjoys playing for KU and doesn't have a shot ata great NBA contract. He has zero about which to be embarrassed.

Aaron Paisley 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Going 0-7 while airballing a finger roll is embarrassing and should be embarrassing to any basketball player. Missing every shot you take in a game should be embarrassing to any basketball player. That performance should be enough to make a borderline draft pick this year be motivated to come back and end his Kansas career on a much higher note like that guy said. There was absolutely nothing wrong with what that guy said and should be used to fuel the fire in Graham that we saw Mason play with this season.

Dale Koch 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Aaron, why don't you go out and try to make just 10 free throws. I'll bet you can't make 5 out of 10. No embarrassment what so ever in Devonte's performance. He has been awesome for 3 yrs for KU. If it wasn't for Devonte we wouldn't have gotten to where we are so get off of it and give the guy a break. You're the embarrassment to this board.

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