Kansas set a world record for the loudest indoor arena before Monday night’s tip-off, and with just under three minutes left in the game, the fans that set that record were heading for the exits.
It’s too bad, because that record may have been broken down the stretch, as No. 3 Kansas erased a late, 14-point deficit in a come-from-behind win No. 9 West Virginia to win 84-80 and maintain a two-game lead atop the Big 12 regular season standings.
The Jayhawks comeback was led by Frank Mason III, who finished with 24 points and five assists despite having an off-night, and Landen Lucas, as the duo ran point on a Jayhawk press that gave the Mountaineers a taste of their own medicine. As the old saying goes, teams that press don’t like to be pressed, and a series of sloppy turnovers in the final two minutes gifted away West Virginia’s chance to land the first conference sweep of a Bill Self coached team since he was at Tulsa in 1999-2000.
The regulation-closing run was 21-7 over the final 2:45, a stretch where the Jayhawks forced turnovers and hit three threes after missing their previous 12 shots from beyond the arc. Mason forced overtime with a pair of free throws, and West Virginia’s Tarik Phillip missed a three at the buzzer that would have won it.
The Jayhawks jumped out to a quick lead in the extra frame thanks to a pair of threes from Devonte’ Graham, his third and fourth in the span of five minutes of game time, and a layup from Jackson off of a turnover. All told, Kansas outscored West Virginia 29-7 over six minutes of game time, a stretch where West Virginia turned the ball over seven times. Graham had 12 of his 18 points in those six minutes, while Josh Jackson had 14 points and five steals.
Esa Ahmad had 20 points and seven boards to lead the Mountaineers while Phillip added 18 points. Phillip also had two turnovers in the final two minutes and missed the game-winning three after he settled instead of driving to the rim.
Here are three things to take away from this result:
1. The lack of depth for the Jayhawks was painfully obvious: Not to be the Debbie Downer here, but I don’t think the flaws in this Kansas roster could have been more apparent than they were on Monday night. The biggest one? They have, essentially, one functional big man in Landen Lucas, and he was as good as he always in against the Mountaineers. He blocked a couple shots, he changed a handful more, he grabbed 13 boards and he was terrific at the point of the Kansas press while avoiding picking up his fifth foul.
But once you get past Lucas it isn’t pretty. Mitch Lightfoot isn’t ready to play in a game at that level yet. Dwight Coleby is still battling his way back from a torn ACL he suffered late in 2015. And Carlton Bragg Jr., as talented as he can be offensively, just is not a guy that can handle being asked to provide any kind of physical presence. That’s not his game. He’s a 6-foot-8, 220-pound face-up four. He was manhandled on Monday, and looked like he was devoid of confidence.
The Jayhawks are always a couple of ticky-tack fouls on Lucas away from being in real trouble.
And that’s not the only place where Kansas lacks depth. Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson almost never come off the floor. Returning home from Lubbock on Saturday and turning around and playing just 48 hours takes its toll, and I’d guess that had as much to do with Kansas’ inability to make layups and open jumpers for the first 38 minutes of the game as anything.
This is a problem because the NCAA tournament is played on this same schedule. Can Kansas win two games in three days for three straight weeks?
2. The Big 12 race could come to an end Saturday: That’s when Kansas makes their return trip to Waco to take on No. 6 Baylor. The Bears lost on Monday night, falling in Lubbock to the same Red Raiders that came a potentially-illegal screen away from picking off Kansas in that same building over the weekend. That means that, as of today, Kansas holds a two-game lead over Baylor and a three-game lead over West Virginia with just five games left in league play. If they win at Baylor on Saturday, it’s time to start celebrating their 13th straight Big 12 title. Even with a loss, Kansas is in a position where it seems very unlikely that they’ll cough up the outright league title to Scott Drew.
3. Phog Magic: Two weeks ago, Kansas had gone three years without losing at home. If West Virginia hadn’t collapsed, this would have been the second straight loss that the Jayhawks had taken at home, and that hasn’t happened since 1988. It also would have been the second loss that Kansas has taken against West Virginia this season, having fallen by 16 points in Morgantown earlier this year. That would have been the first time that Bill Self has been swept in a home-and-home by a conference foe since he was coaching at Tulsa during the 1999-2000 season.
Maybe the term should be Self Magic.