No. 6 Kansas Prevails at No. 3 Oklahoma, 76-72

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NORMAN, Okla. The Rematch was touted as “must-see -TV” and the reason “why you play the game” from ESPN’s College GameDay crew hours before Kansas and Oklahoma met for the first time since an epic triple-overtime KU victory on Jan. 4 in Allen Fieldhouse.

Part two of the hotly-contested series between the teams vying for a Big 12 regular-season title lived up to its billing again as the sixth-ranked Jayhawks prevailed against the third-ranked Sooners on Saturday afternoon at Lloyd Noble Center, 76-72. 

With the win, Kansas (21-4, 9-3 Big 12) snaps Oklahoma’s 19-game home winning streak and moves into a tie with West Virginia for the lead in the Big 12 standings. The Sooners fall to 20-4 and 8-4 in Big 12 play. Kansas is now 3-0 against top-10 opponents this season, including two-straight top-10 wins after defeating the 10th-ranked Mountaineers on Tuesday in Lawrence.

Sophomore guard Devonte’ Graham carried the Jayhawks with a career-high 27 points, including 6-of-9 shooting from 3-point range, in 39 minutes of action while primarily guarding Oklahoma standout Buddy Hield.

“The answer was Devonte’ Graham,” Kansas head coach Bill Self gleefully said during his postgame radio interview. “He was as good today as anybody has been since I’ve been here for a game. His defense on Buddy Hield was remarkable. He played 39 minutes. And he took over the game offensively. Just took it over. He was special.”

After 13 lead changes – which matched the amount of KU-OU lead changes on Jan. 4 – Graham’s sixth trey of the game lifted Kansas to a 73-71 lead with 2:18 remaining. The Jayhawks were able to hold OU scoreless from the field in the final two minutes while putting the finishing touches on the victory by making 3-of-4 from the free throw line in the last 20 seconds of regulation.

Senior forward Jamari Traylor gave Kansas a four-point cushion, 76-72, by making 1-of-2 free throws with 10 seconds remaining. On Oklahoma’s final possession junior forward Landen Lucas firmly rebounded a missed 3-point heave with six seconds remaining to secure the victory.

“Great game,” Self continued. “There is not a nickel’s worth a difference between the two teams. We could easily be 0-2 against them this season, but we had guys step-up and make plays. For us to get some key stops late.”  

The Jayhawks forced Hield, the current favorite for national player of the year, outside of the 3-point line the entire day, as he finished 0 for 4 from 2-point range, 5 of 11 from beyond the arc and 9 of 10 from the free throw line for a team-high 24 points.  

Lucas finished with seven points and 10 rebounds, while senior forward Perry Ellis snagged 10 points and seven rebounds. Junior guard Frank Mason III fouled out for just the second time in his career but not before he scrapped-up 14 points, five rebounds and three assists.

Oklahoma entered Saturday leading the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (.452) and Kansas ranked fourth (.422). But the visiting team proved to have the hot hand in the first half as the Jayhawks made 6-of-8 to start the game, while Oklahoma missed its first nine.

Graham made his first three 3-point attempts to lift Kansas to an early 23-12 advantage at the 8-minute mark of the first half.

Ellis scored all of his 10 points in the first half, but registered his second foul to sit on the bench in the closing five minutes of the opening half.

Hield was held to 0-for-6 shooting from the field in the first half, scoring all of his six first-half points at the free throw line. His first field goal of the game – a 3-pointer – came during a 6-0 OU run that put the Sooners up, 39-38, at the 18:28 mark of the second half.

Hield later added to OU’s lead by making consecutive 3-pointers during an 8-0 run which put the Sooners up, 54-48.

But Graham had an answer for everything Oklahoma threw at the Jayhawks on Saturday. With a little over five minutes remaining Graham guided a floater in the lane for two points while making another 3-pointer on the next possession to give KU a 64-62 lead with 4:48 remaining.

The lead frantically went back-and-forth in the closing minutes.

Oklahoma scored 22 second-chance points against the Jayhawks and three of those points came late in the game as Hield took an offensive rebound from Jordan Woodard to make his fifth trey of the game and give OU a 65-64 lead.

After a pair of free throws from Mason to return the lead to KU, 66-65, Mason committed his fifth foul while Woodard converted on a 4-point play – making a 3-pointer and the free throw, 69-66 Oklahoma.

With ice in his veins, Graham responded again. When seemingly all hope was lost he tied it up, 69-69, with another 3-pointer. OU’s Cousins sunk a jumper with 2:49 remaining to return the lead to OU, 71-69, before Graham’s final 3-point dagger gave KU the 73-71 go-ahead lead and setup the eventual 76-72 Jayhawk victory.  

“This is about as much fun as I’ve had coaching a game in a while,” Self concluded. “It was a big, big, big-time game. Huge win.”

Kansas returns home for an ESPN Big Monday matchup against Oklahoma State on Monday at 8 p.m. Central.

NOTABLE [Complete Postgame Notes (.pdf)]
• Kansas improves to 3-0 against Associated Press (AP) top-10 teams this season.
• Kansas has reached 21 wins for 27-straight seasons, a streak that started during the 1989-90 season.
• Kansas breaks Oklahoma’s 19-game home winning streak.
• Sophomore guard Devonte’ Graham scored a career-high 27 points on a career-high six 3-point field goals made in 39 minutes.
• The Jayhawks’ defensive effort held OU’s Buddy Hield to zero 2-point field goals, a season low for the national player of the year candidate. Hield finished with 24 points on five 3-pointers and nine free throws.
• OU’s 33.3 percent shooting from the field ties a season low.
• The Jayhawks have won 15 of the last 17 games against Oklahoma.

QUOTABLE [Complete Postgame Quotes (.pdf)]
Bill Self: “(This game) tells you that we are capable of being tough. It tells me that, obviously, both teams care an awful lot. That was a very competitive game and both teams battled hard. I think we can play through some stuff. When a game doesn’t go as scripted, which I think is always tough teams can do that. To be honest, I expected us to play well. For some reason, we don’t play well in Stillwater, but we usually play well here, even when we don’t win. I came in here confident and I think the guys did too.”

Kansas sophomore G Devonte’ Graham: “Preparing for this game and for Oklahoma is not all about Buddy Hield, but everyone. You have to guard (Ryan) Spangler, (Jordan) Woodard, and (Isaiah) Cousins. We just tried to contain them and make every shot tough. Buddy still knocked down five threes, so he still got his shots off and had a good game. I just tried to play the very best defense I could.”

Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger: “Credit Kansas for going down and making big plays. (Devonte’) Graham of course was great during that stretch. We just have to keep working and regroup and we’ll have to play a little bit better and get one next time.”