CHICAGO — The closest Trevon Duval came to sharing a locker room with the Jayhawks, at least by proximity, came on Tuesday night.
Deep inside the corridors winding throughout the basement level of United Center, the Duke and KU locker rooms were separated by a matter of feet. After surviving his first test, a win over No. 2 Michigan State in which Grayson Allen tallied 37 points, the point guard and former KU target sat in — not in front of, but in — his locker, flashing a smile that revealed a busted lip as he spoke.
"We can always get better," Duval said. "We all feel like we didn't play our best today, as a whole, but this game is over so now it's on to the next one."
That next-play type of mentality was a constant for the freshman.
Asked about all the great teams in the Champions Classic and prompted by the topic of Kansas being among his final schools, Duval simply volunteered that, "Yeah, Kansas was in there."
Asked about the details of his recruitment and how close he was to picking the Jayhawks, Duval volunteered little more.
"Uh, Kansas. I liked Kansas a little bit," Duval said. "But I'm here now, so I really liked Duke. That's all that really matters."
In that regard, he wasn't the only player who preferred to keep the focus on the game.
While Duval was magnificent against the Spartans, finishing with 17 points, 10 assists, 6 steals and 3 rebounds, Malik Newman's night was more of a mixed bag.
On one hand, the guard hit arguably KU's biggest shot and two important late free throws in the 65-61 win. Plus, he led the Jayhawks with nine rebounds on a night in which they crushed a bigger Kentucky squad on the offensive glass.
On the other, the red-shirt sophomore tallied more shot attempts (14) than points (12) and was swatted on several occasions at the rim. In fact, after Newman was rejected on two closely-occurring sequences, KU fans on Twitter seemed to be having flashbacks to the last meeting between the two teams in the event, when then-sophomore Frank Mason III made just one of 10 field goal attempts in a 32-point KU loss.
But this blog isn't about that. If you want to read about the game, there's plenty for you right here.
This is about what happened next.
In the post-game press conference, Newman answered questions about a variety of topics. He was even a good sport when he was asked how KU could build off the win, joking the next step was to get back in the gym and start shooting.
The one question he didn't answer, though, was completely unrelated.
On what was supposed to be the final question of the press conference, Newman was asked by a reporter why Mississippi State wasn't the right fit and why Kansas was.
As the words "Mississippi State" left the reporter's mouth, Newman's demeanor changed. He reached over at a stat sheet to his right and moved over a couple feet, staring down at it before picking his head up to deliver his answer.
"I have no comment on that," Newman said.
At this point, where the games actually matter and the mistakes and big shots all count for real, who could blame him?
When Devonte’ Graham lobbed the ball toward Udoka Azubuike, what the crowd at Allen Fieldhouse saw made them cheer. Bill Self had a different reaction.
The play he was stewing over came two trips earlier down the floor.
The sequence that started the fast break for Kansas actually originated from a KU mistake. Svi Mykhailiuk had the ball on the left wing. It was poked away and into the hands of a defender.
As Fort Hays State dribbled the other way, Mykhailiuk took a haphazard swipe at the ball, leaving KeShawn Wilson with a one-on-one shot to the hoop.
Malik Newman, who had already picked up a foul, defended the layup well and the shot missed. The ensuing break resulted in the lob, but Mykhailiuk still found himself on the bench.
"It's not that complicated to me. If you're going to make a mistake, at least make it going full speed," Self said. "When you try not to screw up, that's when you screw up the most. We just need those guys more aggressive, playing with more reckless abandon."
That was the way the first half went more often than not for Mykhailiuk. The film didn’t do him any favors.
Early in the first half, Fort Hays State had the ball out of bounds with just seven seconds on the shot clock. The inbounds was eventually redirected to Trey O'Neil, who Mykhailiuk pressured all the way out to half court.
O'Neil turned and dribbled back to his right, easily getting by Mykhailiuk and scoring on a layup. It was far from his only defensive lapse.
Mykhailiuk was a half-step slow reacting to an off-ball cut but still recovered well enough to make a play. Billy Preston, however, didn’t make enough of a path for Svi to step through on the handoff, and Mykhailiuk didn't fight through the traffic hard enough to prevent the layup.
In a later stint on the court, Mykhailiuk found himself matched up with the Tigers' Marcus Cooper. He tried to cheat on a screen and was burned by a simple left-to-right crossover, again for a layup.
"Defensively we were bad," Self said after the game. "We've certainly got to do a better job of guarding the ball."
Offensively, it wasn’t much better.
Mykhailiuk shot just 1 for 5 in the first half, missing all three of his 3-point attempts. Even so, it was an attempted layup that stuck in Self's craw.
Nearing the midway point in the half, Mykhailiuk executed on a backcut and MItch Lightfoot delivered a perfect pass to put him in at the hoop.
Mykhailiuk went up for the layup and, perhaps sensing potential contact, contorted his body to try and lay it in left-handed. The shot bounced off the rim.
“Guy comes to contest, he flinched,” Self said. "He's a senior. That's the kind of stuff I'm talking about."
To be fair, Mykhailiuk wasn’t the only one to draw the ire of Self.
Newman, who picked up a cheap foul early in the game, did himself no favors later in the half, as he drove into heavy traffic and nearly turned it over.
The Jayhawks got the ball back and worked it around to Mykhailiuk, who launched a contested 3. At the next stoppage, both returned to the bench.
"You don't play with activity and people minus Devonte' go 3 of 21 from 3," Self said. "That is a formula to get your butt handed to you."
Perhaps it all would’ve been forgivable, though, if the swingman found other ways to contribute.
Mykhailiuk ended the game with eight rebounds and five assists, with a majority of those numbers coming in the second frame.
As for the first half, he had the chance to thread an easy entry pass to Udoka Azubuike, but his pass sailed by the big man and out of bounds.
"When you're not making shots and you don't give us any activity, there's absolutely no reason to play," Self said.
So to start the second half for the second straight game, Self went with Marcus Garrett and Preston over Mykhailiuk and Newman.
He doubled down on the move after the game, noting that Garrett made plays neither of the other two older players could make. Self did, however, make an even stronger statement.
Just over five minutes into the second half, Self turned to his bench to put in a wing. He opted for walk on Clay Young, continuing to leave Mykhailiuk and Newman on the bench for some time.
If it wasn't obvious as to why, Self made it perfectly clear after the game.
"No, I really did think, 'Now Clay, we need you to play a certain way,' " Self joked, before shedding the sarcasm for a more serious tone. "I just didn't really think that Svi or Malik deserved to be out there, to be honest with you.
"I think they got the message."