In a game that meant so much for so many reasons to both programs, the 15th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks knocked off the 16th-ranked and Big 12-leading Kansas State Wildcats in Lawrence on Monday night 64-49.
The Wildcats got out to a fast start, or at least a comparatively fast one. They scored the first five points of the game, while it took the Jayhawks more than four minutes to get on the board. K-State would get out to an early 10-3 lead, which Kansas countered with an 8-0 run of its own.
That set the tone for what would be a wild first half.
Arguably nothing was more wild, however, than a superstar performance from junior forward Mitch Lightfoot in the opening period. Lightfoot has seen more action and has stepped up his own game lately, with the apex (so far) coming on Monday night. He finished the first half with eight points, two rebounds and a block. He also was the catalyst for some of the loudest cheering of the night from the Allen Fieldhouse crowd, which was already amped from the start.
The Martini Room stayed open to lead off the second half as well, with Lightfoot picking up two more blocks before K-State coach Bruce Weber called a timeout just 2:08 into the second.
“I was feeling it, but I was just trying to do what my teammates needed me to do,” Lightfoot said.
Kansas coach Bill Self has been praising Lightfoot’s contributions recently since he was pressed into more service, and that theme continued in the Sunflower Showdown win.
“I thought Mitch was great,” Self said. “When Mitch came in it almost felt like you couldn’t take him out … Probably the best game, maybe the best since he’s been here.”
Lightfoot finished the game with nine points, six rebounds and the three blocks.
The big men for KU were the driving force, with junior forward Dedric Lawson having another stat sheet-filling game in the victory, posting his 17th double-double of the year with game highs in points and rebounds, with 18 and 14, respectively.
While the positive side of the game was the players who stepped up for the Jayhawks, the players who were no-shows for the Wildcats were just as big of a story. Senior forward Dean Wade and senior guard Barry Brown combined for just 12 points on 3-of-15 shooting in their final game at Allen Fieldhouse. Wade in particular looked to be struggling, adding a few points late to bring his total up to eight but obviously laboring throughout the night. He fouled out shortly after the final media timeout.
Weber said after the game that Wade hasn’t practiced in three weeks and that the effects of that caught up to him on Monday.
“They did a good job, they kept coming at him,” Weber said. “We stood a lot and did not move the ball and did not move bodies.”
Brown, meanwhile, struggled even worst than Wade shooting the ball, going just 1-of-8 and ending up with just four points in the loss. Four points is his season low.
“Barry’s so good at getting to the basket,” Weber said. “They were there waiting for him. He just never got in rhythm.”
Four points is Brown’s season low and his lowest scoring total since putting up just one point in 31 minutes on Feb. 3, 2018 versus West Virginia.
“It’s super disappointing,” Brown said. “[I] didn’t make some shots, didn’t guard the right way all night. I had a pretty bad game today.”
Senior guard Kamau Stokes led K-State in scoring with 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting.
KU’s starting backcourt played a solid game complimenting the bigs, with freshmen Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes both scoring in double figures. Dotson had 16 points, while Grimes scored in double figures for the first time since Jan. 26 versus Kentucky.
Self said he thought Grimes played one of his better games recently on both ends of the floor.
“I thought he did an admirable job defensively,” Self said. “I think his confidence level is a little different than it was a month ago.”
Neither team was particularly efficient shooting the ball overall, with the Jayhawks finishing at 38.9 percent from the floor and 32 percent from three-point range, while the Wildcats shot just 32.1 percent and 40 percent from deep.
Kansas State still controls its own destiny for a share of the Big 12 championship and is still alone in first place in the league by half a game over Texas Tech. Kansas, meanwhile, is now one game behind in the standings, still alive but needing help for a 15th straight conference title. The Jayhawks need to win out, and have the Wildcats and Red Raiders to each lose once more to earn a share of the title.
Lawson said that while KU needs a lot of things to fall into place, the Jayhawks are trying to stay focused on their own business the rest of the way.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time,” Lawson said. “We just need to build off the energy we had here, and if we carry it over we’ll be great.”