'Always ready': Dwight Coleby comes through again on tournament stage
Kansas City, Mo. — As has become the norm for the reserve big man during his debut season with Kansas, Dwight Coleby’s numbers Thursday night against Purdue didn’t jump off the final stat sheet and leave anyone in awe.
But his top-seeded Jayhawks needed everything they got out of Coleby’s 13 minutes off the bench at Sprint Center, where KU limited the Boilermakers’ powerful front line and advanced to the Elite Eight with a 98-66 beating of fourth-seeded Purdue.
The 6-foot-9 Coleby and sophomore guard Lagerald Vick, one of the night’s numerous stars for KU in a Sweet 16 rout, gave a couple starters a breather less than five minutes into what evolved into a Kansas track meet late.
“I expected to play a big role,” Coleby said at the end of a night when his two points and two rebounds didn’t tell the full story of how he battled inside with massive Purdue bigs Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, “but I had no idea I’d be the first off the bench or something like that. I just take it as it comes and I’m always ready.”
That showed less than 30 seconds after the big man checked in, when Coleby handled a difficult pass from Josh Jackson and kicked the ball out to a wide-open Devonte’ Graham for one of the junior guard’s five successful 3-pointers.
Just more than a minute later, Coleby benefited from a Vick post-feed and scored easily inside.
Initially, though, Landen Lucas’ fill-in wasn’t matching the starting center’s defensive prowess. The Boilermakers’ massive backup big, 7-2 Haas, pinned Coleby in the paint within arm’s reach of the rim and scored over him easily.
When Coleby subbed out, though, he received some more positive reenforcement than scorn.
“Just play better defense. Just do your work early and you should be fine,” Coleby related of the message, a reminder of KU’s game plan to stop Swanigan and Haas.
The junior from Nassau, Bahamas, didn’t feel satisfied with his seven first-half minutes because of his defensive lapses. But Coleby said he got a second wind for the second half, when he, Lucas, Jackson and Carlton Bragg Jr. helped keep Haas scoreless and limited Swanigan to three two-point field goals on six attempts — Purdue’s star big stepped outside to knock down two 3-pointers, which Coleby said KU could live with.
“He was huge,” Kansas junior guard Devonte’ Graham said, when asked about Coleby’s contributions. “We have been telling him, ‘Be ready when your number is called,’ and he's been doing a great job in practice. He's been looking ready since the tournament started and we're going to need him to keep playing like that.”
The reserve helped KU survive a night when Lucas had to navigate four fouls and played just 20 minutes, in part because the Jayhawks blew Purdue out down the stretch.
Like Coleby did earlier in the week, in KU’s second-round win over Michigan State, he left his teammates impressed with his preparedness.
“We never know,” Frank Mason III said, “when guys are going to get in foul trouble or something like that, so they have to be ready and he did a great job of coming in and being confident and being ready to play.”
Now just a win away from KU’s first Final Four trip since 2012, coach Bill Self credited Coleby’s role in the team’s latest tourney rout.
“Obviously, Dwight bought us a ton of minutes whenever Landen was in foul trouble,” Self said. “But I thought Carlton came in and did a good job, too. You add those guys together you get 23 key minutes out of that position when Landen can't be in the game. So I think they both kind of bailed us out.”
Though one might assume Coleby is riding the excitement of two productive March Madness outings in a row, at the tail end of a season in which his minutes usually varied between sparing and none, the steady big man isn’t getting carried away.
“I feel great. But we can’t worry about this game,” Coleby said, minutes after KU reached a regional final and a Saturday night (7:49) matchup with Oregon. “This game is over. We’ve just got to move forward and try to win the next one.”