Kansas’ basketball players erupted in joy in the visitors locker room after experiencing something that’s been hard to come by this season — a victory on the road.
“It’s the best locker room we’ve had all year by far. Even after beating Tennessee and Marquette and Michigan State, Villanova it wasn’t like that,” KU coach Bill Self said after the Jayhawks’ 82-77 overtime victory over TCU on Monday night at jam-packed Schollmaier Arena.
Reserve forward K.J. Lawson was as happy as anybody after KU’s second league road victory in six games. He scored the bucket that tied the game at 69 and forced overtime and also delivered the hoop that gave KU a 76-74 lead with 1:09 left in OT. It was a lead KU (19-6, 8-4) kept for the remainder of the extra session.
“Man, there’s so much energy, so much positive energy. Everybody’s hyped for each other,” Lawson said of the scene in the locker room. He scored 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting with three rebounds in 16 minutes. His brother Dedric, who fouled out with 2:26 left in OT and KU up two points, finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and five (of KU’s 15) turnovers in 35 minutes.
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“I love this team. I love the youth we have. Those guys are going to be great,” K.J. Lawson added. “We are still a bunch of guys who never played with each other. We’re still trying to put that whole fist together — (trying to) ball that fist up and throw a punch. We’re getting there.”
KU freshman point guard Devon Dotson, who played despite a case of leg cramps in OT, scored a career-high 25 points and retrieved a career-best 10 rebounds. He also dished five assists against six turnovers and had two steals in 45 minutes. Dotson was 6-for-6 from the line in the extra session and scored six of KU’s 13 points in overtime.
Frosh guard Ochai Agbaji scored 20 points on 6-for-12 shooting with a career-high 11 rebounds in 41 minutes. He hit a three-pointer to open the scoring in OT.
“Devon and Ochai were fabulous,” Self said. “The other guys gave good minutes. “K.J., Ochai and Devon were without question the best we had tonight.”
The players’ emotions in the locker room also might have included a tad bit of relief.
KU led by 12 points (61-49) with 9:01 remaining and 11 points (63-52) with just 6:39 to play. However, TCU (17-7, 5-6), which entered the game with a 4-0 record in Big 12 home games, used a 17-2 run — yes a 17-2 run — to grab a 69-65 lead with just over two minutes to play. KU had four key turnovers in the TCU run.
KU did at least force OT after blowing that big lead.
Dedric Lawson scored to cut the gap to 69-67 at 1:06 and K.J. Lawson scored with 24.1 seconds remaining to tie the score at 69. TCU, which was led by Desmond Bane’s 18 points (Kendric Davis had 16 points and seven assists), Kouat Noi 14 points and Alex Robinson 13 points) had a chance to win on a final possession. Davis missed a shot that apparently was late and would have been waved off had it dropped through the hoop.
“It was a great feeling to get this road win, to get it in overtime,” K.J. Lawson said. “We stuck to the plan, did what we had to do.”
Self was in anguish on the bench as KU squandered the lead late in regulation, but quite pleased at the end result.
“I feel good we came back after we gave it up,” Self said. “I didn’t feel as good about toughness as we gave it up. We had a makeshift lineup in there. We had guys do some good things.”
Mitch Lightfoot scored four points with six boards and three big blocks in 22 minutes. David McCormack, who started his second straight game, had four points and three boards in 17 minutes and Quentin Grimes five points and four assists with just one turnover in 36 minutes.
“I thought we played with great energy at Kentucky,” Self said, asked if it was KU’s most energetic effort in a road game. “I thought we played with pretty good energy the first 35 minutes at Arizona State (in loss). We had Baylor down 24 (in win). It (energy) was as good as it’s been (on road) all year long, that’s for sure.”
It came as somewhat of a relief for the Jayhawks to win their second true road game overall against six road losses.
“We had energy,” said Agbaji, who hit 6 of 12 shots (2 of 6 from three) and was 6 of 6 from the line. “The bench was into it. All five guys on the court were into it.”
“It’s huge for us,” Dotson said after hitting 7 of 13 shots. He was 4 of 7 from three and 7 of 9 from the line. “We wanted to turn around our road season. We were kind of struggling there. It’s a big win for us. We knew coming in it would be a fight. They were not going to let up.”
TCU’s Desmond Bane was distraught after the loss, the Horned Frogs’ second to KU this season.
“We obviously can compete with anybody in the country. We competed against Kansas tough. We should have won this game down the stretch,” Bane said.
KU remains two games behind K-State in the loss column. The Wildcats travel to Texas on Tuesday night.
“For us we are way back,” Self said of the league race, “but this at least keeps us in the game. Now we get a chance to see if we can improve on that this weekend (3 p.m., Saturday against West Virginia at Allen Fieldhouse). We are in the game, by no means in a favorable position. If we hadn’t won tonight it may have been too much.”