LAWRENCE — Udoka Azubuike was the primary focus of Texas Tech on Saturday, and for the most part, that strategy of slowing Kansas basketball’s 7-footer paid off.
But it was Devon Dotson that drew the Red Raiders’ attention in the postgame news conference, particularly from the team’s head coach.
“Whenever we had the game kind of where we wanted it, Dotson goes and makes an individual play,” said Chris Beard. “It’s like flashbacks. Is that (Devonte’) Graham out there? Is that (Frank) Mason? No, it’s Dotson.”
While Dotson has a long way to go to reach the heights attained by Graham and Mason, the sophomore point guard certainly looked the part of an All-American on Saturday.
Dotson scored a team-high 21 points on 9-for-16 shooting, adding 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals versus just one turnover in a wire-to-wire, 40-minute performance in the No. 3-ranked Jayhawks’ 78-75 victory at Allen Fieldhouse. The outing lifted Dotson’ to 18.2 points per game this season, tops in the Big 12.
He came through when it mattered most, too.
When Tech cut what was once an 11-point second-half deficit to just five on a TJ Holyfield 3 with 3:08 remaining, Dotson converted a tricky layup to push the advantage back to seven. Jahmi’us Ramsey’s 3 then cut the hole to four, but it was Dotson again with a bucket to answer and extend the lead back to six.
The abilities of Dotson and Marcus Garrett (15 points) to drive and score, Bill Self said, were on full display in a game where it proved KU’s only reliable offense — the Jayhawks (18-3, 7-1 Big 12) went just 4 of 13 from 3-point range and got a combined 11 points from its frontcourt.
“It’s frustrating. You know it’s coming,” Beard said. “Coach Self does a great job putting his players in the best position to drive downhill and be aggressive and put that pressure on the officials to make the call or not. So you know it’s coming. We just did the best job we can.
“Dotson is a dynamic player. He’s got poise and a composure about him and they really feed off him. When they needed it most he made big baskets.”
Dotson's outing offset an off night for Azubuike — plagued with foul trouble, the Big 12 preseason player of the year finished with five points on 1-for-5 shooting and eight rebounds in just 16 minutes.
Perhaps most importantly, Dotson recognized early on who Tech was selling out to stop.
“Again, that’s just when I think Dotson understood what was going on today — ‘Hey, I’ve got to take this thing over,’ ” Beard said, “and he certainly did.”
Dotson earned an equal amount of praise from teammates and his own head coach.
Self noted that Dotson’s degree of difficulty on offense is higher than that of his predecessors due to what’s been the sophomore’s biggest offensive handicap to this point — Dotson is shooting just 28.6% from 3-point range this season.
“The way he gets (driving layups) is even harder than the way Devonte’ and Frank got ’em,” said Self, whose team plays host to Texas (13-8, 4-4) at 8 p.m. Monday. “They would get ’em by stretching the defense, making you guard them and stuff like that. This guy does it just by getting downhill.
“He’s a good shooter and he hasn’t shot it well this year statistically, at all, and today, you know, 1-for-5 (from 3). But he’s going to find a streak in five or six games where he’s shooting 45 or 50% from 3, and when he does that, he’s going to be really hard to guard.”
And in a game where KU came within an eyelash of blowing what was once a 15-point advantage, Dotson’s abilities as a floor general appeared to shine.
“I think Devon does a great job of rallying the troops together,” sophomore forward David McCormack said, “and making sure we have our heads on straight for the mission.”
McCormack returns from suspension
McCormack played for the first time since serving a two-game suspension for his role in the Jan. 21 brawl with Kansas State. Coming off the bench for only the second time this season, McCormack finished with six points, six rebounds and three blocked shots.
“It’s just a great feeling to be back, of course,” McCormack said. “There’s nothing like playing in the Fieldhouse, all of the support from teammates, fans, family, everyone who’s had my back. I’m just happy to be back.”
McCormack credited his teammates for keeping his spirits high during his banishment and said he tried to send positivity their way during the two-game stretch where the team was left with just one frontcourt player.
“I’m sorry for my actions,” McCormack said. “It doesn’t represent me or the program well, but (I learned) that I need to come back with a better mindset, a better mentality to help the team because that didn’t help.”