Kansas freshman forward Silvio de Sousa and his eligibility was the story entering the Sunflower Showdown on Saturday morning, but that became an afterthought with Kansas barely escaping Kansas State 73-72.
The first Sunflower Showdown of the 2017-18 season didn’t feel like a typical Kansas versus Kansas State game. KU hasn’t been its regular dominant self at home, a place that has historically been a house of horrors for K-State. In the end, the status quo won out, complete with the controversial calls that have dominated the series in recent years.
Kansas was hot to open the game, getting out to a quick 8-2 lead and forcing K-State coach Bruce Weber to use a timeout. For the several minutes of the game, the KU offense appeared to be firing on all cylinders.
Coincidence or not, something changed when de Sousa checked in for the first time. He played actively defensively, but clearly lacked awareness on offense in his first game.
The Wildcats eventually gained some momentum, extending their brief lead to five points. Senior guard Svi Mykhailiuk tied the game going into halftime, however, with a three pointer at the buzzer.
“They had totally controlled the game form the 10 minute mark on,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “The little play at the end of the half was huge.”
Junior forward Dean Wade was the offensive star for K-State early, leading the Wildcats with 11 points at the break. His shooting ability was crucial, as he was able to stretch the floor and work efficiently from multiple spots.
Momentum shifted again early in the first half, and this time KU made an impressive run to get its lead to double digits. Senior guard Devonte’ Graham was the catalyst behind a 15-4 Jayhawks run to open the second half, along with several impressive plays down low by sophomore forward Udoka Azubuike.
After that run, though, the second half was all K-State. The Wildcats played with tenacity while KU struggled to get in a rhythm on either end. The teams traded baskets in the final few series of the game, getting as close as a tied game with 1:52 to go.
Sophomore guard Malik Newman was fouled with 15.2 seconds left in the game and made a pair of free throws to put Kansas up one. On the other end, Kansas State’s offense didn’t run an effective play, or at least did not execute one well, as its final shot was a contested, deep three from junior guard Barry Brown, which went begging.
“I thought Barry went a little slow,” Weber said. “I didn’t want to wait that long.”
Weber was visibly frustrated with the officiating, saying he was “disappointed” with some of the calls in the second half. Aside from being disgruntled with a technical foul on freshman guard Cartier Diarra late in the second half, Weber didn’t speak about specific calls.
“I want to keep my job, I don’t want to get fined, I’ve worked too hard,” Weber said.
On his way out of his postgame press conference, however, Weber yelled to the media pool “Ask Fran Fraschilla about it,” referencing ESPN’s color commentator for the game.
Self had little to say about the officiating, saying he thinks over the course of a game and a season, fouls calls even out between teams.
“I shouldn’t comment, because I haven’t seen the tape,” Self said “If that’s a reason for losing … I don’t buy into that at all”
The nail-biting victory isn’t anything new for this Kansas team, which has taken games down to the wire several times. Kansas State, on the other hand, has gotten used to their position as well, with the Sunflower Showdown loss just another episode in a series of close defeats this season.
Graham led all scorers with 23 points, along with a team-high five assists. Azubuike had a game-high eight rebounds to go with 19 points on 8-9 shooting.
de Sousa finished the game with a nearly empty stat line, aside from one turnover and one foul in four minutes.
“I asked [de Sousa] ‘Were you ready for that?’ and he said ‘No,’” Self said. “He’s going to be fine, but it’s not fair to expect too much.”
Wade was the leading scorer for K-State in the loss, pouring in 22 points with 11 in each half. After scoring a career-high 38 points against Oklahoma State on Wednesday, Brown finished with 12 on Saturday.
It will be a short turnaround for Kansas, which will face No. 2 West Virginia in Morgantown on Monday at 6:00 p.m. Kansas State will look to bounce back on Tuesday, when the Wildcats will host No. 9 Oklahoma for an 8:00 p.m. tip.
Listen here to hear what Bruce Weber, Bill Self, the Wildcats and the Jayhawks had to say after KU’s 73-72 win on Saturday:
Barry Brown, Dean Wade & Cartier Diarra
Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman & Udoka Azubuike