Morgantown, W.Va. — The senior guard should have known better.
Playing in his 112th game at the University of Kansas and making his 57th career start, Lagerald Vick, by osmosis alone, should have picked up somewhere along the line a mental note about what to do when his team is down a point with the game on the line.
However, in the 4.9 seconds between Marcus Garrett inbounding the ball to Vick and the moment the most experienced player on KU’s roster rose up to shoot his shot at West Virginia on Saturday, the best basketball play to make didn’t appear to cross his mind.
KU’s chances of winning diminished with every Vick dribble once he crossed into the frontcourt, where he meandered over toward the left corner for a 3-pointer, when what the Jayhawks needed for him — or one of his teammates — to do was attack the paint and get a layup or draw a foul.
Vick had his eyes on some type of heroic jumper for a victory, and his intentions became so clear that 6-foot-10 Derek Culver stepped over to contest it, rather than stay with KU’s most talented player, Dedric Lawson.
Vick landed in a heap in front of the KU bench. Lawson rushed a putback attempt off the glass. The shotgun sound effects fired, cuing attendees in the crazed student section to storm the WVU Coliseum court and celebrate their team’s first Big 12 win of the year, 65-64.
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, who has undoubtedly gone over such late-game scenarios umpteen times throughout Vick’s four seasons in the program, didn’t call his starting senior guard out specifically. Instead, he fell on top of the grenade himself, stating countless times during his postgame press conference that he should have called timeout.
What made Vick’s last-second misstep even worse, though, was that KU’s previous possession also ended with the senior firing what could only be described as an ill-conceived 3-pointer.
With just more than 30 seconds to play, the No. 7 Jayhawks led on the road by 1, in a game in which they had not played very well. Vick saw 6-8 Mountaineers forward Wesley Harris guarding him in the left corner and decided this was a mismatch. Indeed, it would have been if Vick had opted to drive past Harris. Instead, Vick crossed over twice and pulled up for a 3 from the left wing, airmailing it long and to the right.
His first blunder in crunch time set the stage for WVU guard Jermaine Haley to score the game-winning basket. Haley, while not the 3-point shooter Vick is, put his team ahead with a tough-minded drive to the hoop for a go-ahead layup with 8.5 seconds to play.
Self didn’t mind providing afterward his assessment of the final two possessions of KU’s loss.
“No, they were awful. They were awful,” he repeated. “It was my fault. I should’ve called timeout.”
Self, instead, banked on a team with a senior guard on the floor playing out the final seconds the right way.
“I thought for sure we’d drive it,” he said.
Vick has seen enough winning plays from veteran KU guards the past few seasons to know what Self would want of him in that situation, with the ball in his hands and the WVU defense scrambling in the open floor to get back and defend.
Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk or Malik Newman would have forced the issue and attacked the paint with KU down 1, because that’s what the situation called for. The final minute of KU’s third road loss of the season served as a reminder that Vick’s still not on that level in terms of on-court leadership in pressure situations.
Freshmen Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson and sophomore Garrett joined Vick in the starting lineup as usual, and comprised KU’s four-guard lineup, with Lawson inside, in the decisive final minutes, as well.
But Self didn’t think the youthful nature of the backcourt had anything to do with the game’s final moments going off script and down a reckless path.
“We had a senior with the ball,” Self said. “So that’s not the reason. I think you look at the turnovers (18) and unforced errors, you can say some of that may be attributed to inexperience. But not there at the very end. I don’t think so. It’s just the natural tendency that you’ve got eight and a half seconds left, you go downhill and make a play. At least, that’s what I would think.”
And that line of thinking led Self to keep a timeout in his pocket.
“What are you going to get better than a broken floor when you’re in the double bonus to drive it? You’re not going to get any better than that,” he said.
If Vick takes anything with him from the Jayhawks’ defeat, in which he scored 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting (2 of 6 from 3-point range), with three rebounds, two turnovers and no assists or steals in 33 minutes, it’s the memories of the game’s final two possessions.
And the knowledge that he’s capable of far better the next time the Jayhawks find themselves down 1 with the ball in the final seconds.