LAWRENCE — Mitch Lightfoot sneaked a peek, but he swears the moment wasn’t as it seemed.
During a break in the action late in No. 14-ranked Kansas basketball’s eventual 78-53 drubbing Saturday of last-place West Virginia, the Jayhawk junior forward’s attention appeared to drift to the same place as most of the eyes and minds within Allen Fieldhouse: to the arena’s jumbo video board hanging above center court. There, a noteworthy update was provided on another game taking place simultaneously approximately 85 miles west.
No. 23 Iowa State 78, No. 18 Kansas State 64. Final.
A roar erupted within Allen Fieldhouse, and Lightfoot flashed a smirk — though it remains up for debate whether the two moments were connected.
“Oh, uh, I have to say I was smiling ’cause I was looking up there to see our score,” said Lightfoot, sporting a perhaps sheepish grin. “We were up by a little bit, so it’s kind of nice. It’s a little less heartache on us when we’re up by that much.”
Regardless of the true root of Lightfoot’s smirk, both Saturday’s game and the outcomes around the league gave the forward and his teammates plenty of reason to enter their off week riding high.
Devon Dotson and K.J. Lawson scored 15 points apiece to pace a balanced Jayhawk attack, and the team rode a lopsided run to a 27-point halftime advantage and a breezy afternoon over the undermanned Mountaineers. Dedric Lawson finished with 15 points, while David McCormack and Ochai Agbaji had 10 apiece to round out five double-figure scorers for KU, which won its third straight.
The outcomes in Lawrence and Manhattan, as well as No. 15 Texas Tech’s 86-61 home victory over Baylor, created quite the logjam atop the Big 12 — the Wildcats now hold just a half-game lead over the Jayhawks and Red Raiders, with the Cyclones one game back. The Bears remain two games out of first despite their loss.
Bill Self agreed the league race is set up for what will “probably” be the wildest finish it has seen in his 16-year coaching tenure at KU.
“It’ll be interesting moving forward. I’m glad that we’re at least in the game,” Self said. “If we had played better earlier or at least played with probably this energy and probably freedom, I think that we’d probably be in a much (more) favorable position, but we didn’t.”
K-State has six games remaining, beginning with an 8 p.m. Monday tilt with the Mountaineers in Morgantown, W.Va. KU, which is seeking a national record-extending 15th consecutive regular-season conference championship, plays the first of its final five games at 7 p.m. Feb. 23 against Texas Tech in Lubbock.
“K-State, we can’t control what other people do, but you would think that it puts us at least in the game now,” Self said of Saturday’s outcomes. “We’ve got a hard schedule. Iowa State hosts Tech, we go to Tech and K-State comes here. So everybody’s got some work to do. But K-State is still obviously in the driver’s seat with one loss.”
As Self hinted, KU has had its share of hiccups this season, with the first contest against lowly WVU the worst defeat of the season for the Jayhawks. The Mountaineers scored the final seven points of that 65-64 home victory on Jan. 19.
Saturday’s contest may very well have been a small measure of retribution.
It could’ve very well been over by the opening tip for the 14½-point underdog visitors, playing without injured standouts Beetle Bolden and Sagaba Konate as well as dismissed former starters Esa Ahmad and Wesley Harris.
KU (20-6, 9-4 Big 12) took firm command via a 21-2 run that gave Self’s squad an 18-point lead less than 15 minutes into the game. Dotson, who also finished with eight assists, had 11 first-half points, pacing a Jayhawk offense that shot 56 percent before the break.
WVU (10-15, 2-10), meanwhile, hit just 25 percent of its field goal attempts and committed 12 turnovers in the opening period.
The bloodbath only continued from there. A streaking Agbaji turned on a dime while under the basket and threw down a twisting, 180-degree highlight dunk shortly after the intermission, and later, the brothers Dedric and K.J. Lawson hit back-to-back 3s to expand the KU advantage to 27 with 12:37 left.
The only intrigue remaining among the fans from there appeared to be when walk-on sophomore guard Chris Teahan would enter the fray — with three minutes left, enough time for the fan favorite to drain a crowd-erupting 3 — and whether the video boards would announce a K-State defeat for the first time in the Wildcats’ last 10 league contests.
It did, of course — whether everyone caught wind of it or not.
“The K-State (result), it’s important,” said Lightfoot, who finished with 5 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. “But we’ve got to worry about our next game, which is Texas Tech.”
And, as Self stressed, not overlook the three that follow KU’s 48-hour doubleheader. After traveling to Tech, the Jayhawks play host to K-State (8 p.m. Feb. 25) before finishing off at Oklahoma State (11 a.m. March 2), at Oklahoma (8 p.m. March 5) and at home versus Baylor (1 p.m. March 9).
“The whole thing is, you can kind of tell who plays against who within that five (contenders), OK?” Self said. “And then after that, you know that the games that may not be against those five right there, you know how hard of games they are, but I think sometimes people just assume that, ‘Well, you’re playing this team on this day. They’re not in contention, so you should win.’ That’s how teams don’t win leagues, because everybody in this league can beat anybody any night.”
No. 14 KANSAS 78, WEST VIRGINIA 53
WEST VIRGINIA (10-15)
West 4-8 3-4 11, Matthews 3-9 0-0 7, Culver 2-10 5-9 9, Haley 0-6 0-0 0, Knapper 1-5 2-2 5, Routt 1-1 0-0 2, Gordon 0-0 0-0 0, Doomes 0-0 0-0 0, McCabe 3-9 0-0 6, Harler 5-9 0-0 11, Horton 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 20-59 10-15 53.
D.Lawson 4-8 4-4 14, McCormack 4-4 2-4 10, Agbaji 4-9 1-2 10, Grimes 2-8 0-0 4, Dotson 5-7 4-4 15, Lightfoot 2-3 1-2 5, Luinstra 0-1 0-0 0, Moore 1-4 0-0 2, Teahan 1-2 0-0 3, K.Lawson 5-7 2-2 15. Totals 28-53 14-18 78.
Halftime — Kansas 43-16. 3-Point Goals — West Virginia 3-23 (Harler 1-3, Knapper 1-4, Matthews 1-4, Horton 0-1, Haley 0-3, West 0-4, McCabe 0-4), Kansas 8-20 (K.Lawson 3-4, D.Lawson 2-3, Dotson 1-1, Teahan 1-2, Agbaji 1-4, Moore 0-2, Grimes 0-4). Fouled Out — Gordon. Rebounds — West Virginia 32 (Culver 12), Kansas 28 (Lightfoot 7). Assists — West Virginia 14 (Haley, Culver 4), Kansas 17 (Dotson 8). Total Fouls — West Virginia 18, Kansas 16. A — 16,300 (16,300).
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