University of Kansas

Perry Ellis lifts KU late in 85-78 victory over Iowa State

Kansas forward Perry Ellis, left, is fouled by Iowa State’s Georges Niang during the first half Saturday in Lawrence.
Kansas forward Perry Ellis, left, is fouled by Iowa State’s Georges Niang during the first half Saturday in Lawrence. Associated Press

The blood speckles started just below the adidas logo on Perry Ellis’ shorts, imprints of his left elbow after an aggressive second-half boxout resulted in a flagrant foul and also a brief connection with Iowa State forward Deonte Burton’s tooth.

In the minutes after No. 1 Kansas’ 85-78 victory over 21st-ranked Iowa State on Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse, the senior forward remained in his white jersey a few steps from center court, waiting with teammate Evan Manning for his turn on a television interview.

Perry Ellis, Devonte' Graham & Jamari Traylor talk about beating Iowa State on senior day.

“That was a big-time shot,” Manning said to him, floating his right hand to the sky before pointing to the north goal.

“I had to,” Ellis said with a smile, before turning to give his buddy a bro hug.

A few seconds later, Ellis was called over by the TV crew.

“Not many can guard him,” Manning said, shaking his head. “He’s fun to watch.”

That all played out one final time at home, one of KU’s greats providing a signature moment when his team needed it the most.

With KU leading 74-71 with 1:53 remaining, coach Bill Self pushed four fingers up to the air, signaling “4-up” — the play that might as well be called, “Try to guard Perry Ellis in space.”

After Ellis faked a high ball screen and received a pass, he went right to work. He drove left on Iowa State’s Georges Niang then spun back right, putting in a soft layup high off the glass.

“I just wanted it to go in,” Perry’s mother, Fonda, said of her view from behind Iowa State’s bench in Section R at Allen Fieldhouse. “I was so happy it went in.”

Ellis, a Wichitan, scored 22 points in his final home game as he puts the last touches on a career where he ranks top 13 in school history in both points and rebounds, with the potential to get into the top 10 with a deep postseason run.

The fact he made plays down the stretch — that included a final four minutes where he “locked in and guarded” Niang defensively, according to Self — had to be considered more impressive considering the circumstances.

Just before a postgame radio interview, Ellis walked by KU assistant coach Kurtis Townsend, who pointed toward the southwest side of the Fieldhouse.

“You had about 50 people up there,” Townsend said with a smile.

The guess was close. Thirty people in Ellis’ family had made it, coming from Florida and South Carolina, South Dakota, Michigan and Iowa.

The reality of his final home game also had been weighing on Ellis' mind.

On Friday, he was shooting free throws with teammate Devonte’ Graham when the conversation turned to senior night. Graham, a sophomore, talked about how he only had two years left, saying that time was already going by quickly.

“Yeah,” Graham remembers Ellis telling him. “It went by fast.”

Saturday’s pregame locker room also had its share of reflection. The four seniors — that included Jamari Traylor, Hunter Mickelson and Manning — gathered in a group to repeat a simple message: “We’ve just got to get the win.”

“It was an emotional game and everything,” Traylor said, “but the win was more important.”

KU, which trailed 63-59 with 8:44 left, was able to come through with help from Ellis’ strong play late. He went 9 for 19 from the floor with seven rebounds while also making his final three shots.

“I just knew he could do it,” Fonda said. “I just had faith that we were going to pull through. It just was a little scary.”

KU, which won its 33rd straight home finale dating back to 1983, also picked up its 40th consecutive win at Allen Fieldhouse.

Afterward, Self asked his seniors if they were tired in the locker room. They responded that they were, mostly because of stress.

KU coach Bill Self talks about win over Iowa State on senior day.

The postgame talk wasn’t the end of Ellis’ day, of course. Following one final interview with a reporter on the court, Ellis headed back through the northwest tunnel, high-fiving KU fans before grabbing a Sharpie to begin his work on an autograph line more than 100 feet long.

KU (27-4, 15-3 Big 12) had accomplished about all it could in the regular season.

Ellis, however, had made the decision to return for his senior season with another goal in mind.

“He wants to play in the Final Four," Fonda said, "and I just would love for him to do that.”

Jesse Newell: @jessenewell

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