No. 2 Jayhawks run past No. 5 Volunteers for NIT title, 87-81
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Another MVP effort by junior Dedric Lawson gave the No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks a 87-81 win over No. 5 Tennessee in the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off Friday night inside Barclays Center. Lawson tallied 24 points and collected 13 rebounds en route to claiming tournament MVP honors. Lagerald Vick, who added 15 points, was also named to the all-tournament team as the Jayhawks claimed their fourth NIT title.
Kansas moved to 5-0 on the year, while Tennessee suffered its first loss of the young season, going to 4-1.
The first half began with at a brisk pace over the first three minutes of play and was a back-and-forth affair, with the Jayhawks and Volunteers having nearly identical numbers in every statistical category and the lead swinging in either direction by as few as five points. Leading by a just pair of points after 20 minutes, the Vols had committed six turnovers to KU’s nine, one statistic that was keeping the score close, as were the Jayhawks’ missed free throw opportunities, as they were only able to convert on 3-of-8 from the charity stripe for a 37.5 percentage. UT pulled down one more rebound than the Jayhawks, 20-19, and also led in blocks (3-1), steals (3-1) and assists (7-5).
Kansas did manage to outshoot its opponent from the field by a percentage of 48 to UT’s 39, but with junior center Udoka Azubuike having played only eight minutes of the first 20 due to foul trouble, the Jayhawks headed to the locker room trailing for the second time this season, 31-33, to Tennessee.
Two more quick fouls were called on Kansas’ 7-footer, Azubuike, in the first five minutes of the second stanza, sending him back to the bench as the Volunteers continued to out-execute Kansas on the offensive end of the court. The Volunteers built their largest lead of the game up to nine points, 45-38, prior to the first media timeout of the second half.
As Tennessee went on a scoring drought of its own for more than three minutes, the Jayhawks started to play catch up, scoring five points in the span of less than 30 seconds with an Azubuike dunk and a Lagerald Vick 3-pointer, his second trey of the game, and first since the opening minutes of play. Vick’s second three in two trips down the court gave the Jayhawks their first lead of the second half at the 6:47 mark, 59-56. On the next offensive possession, the senior guard from Memphis, Tennessee, hit a long jumper, having then consecutively scored eight-straight points for Kansas.
However, UT’s Grant Williams was the Volunteers’ answer to KU’s Vick, as the orange went on a 6-0 run, while simultaneously holding Kansas scoreless for 2:21. Azubuike picked up his fifth foul, having played only 17 overall minutes in the game, scoring nine points and pulling down four rebounds. The game’s lead continued to change hands as Vick had a hard drive to the bucket from the corner but Williams scored 10-straight points for the Volunteers. However, it was just a little more than a little later that Williams himself fouled out of the game with 1:24 to play, finishing with 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Senior guard Admiral Schofield hit his first 3-pointer of the night with 2:05 to go in the game after a rough night shooting, but took over for UT when Williams fouled out. Although he shot just 9-of-22 from the floor, and 2-for-8 behind the arc, Schofield ended the evening with 21 points, six rebounds and two assists.
Although KU picked up its shooting in the second half, knocking in 52 percent of its shots, and the Kansas defense held Tennessee to 41 percent shooting, the grind-it-out game was a battle until the clock ran out and the teams headed to overtime with the score knotted at 69.
Kansas found its three redshirts, who sat out the 2017-18 season together, seeing extended time on the floor tonight, and all contributed positively in Dedric Lawson; his brother, K.J. Lawson (eight points, six rebounds in 19 minutes); and Charlie Moore (nine points scored in 32 minutes played).
Freshman guard Devon Dotson was lauded as “terrific throughout the game,” playing with an “energy never subsided.” He hit key free throws as the clock would down to help the Jayhawks seal the victory. In fact, Dotson scored a new career high tonight with 17 in 40 minutes played, also a new career best.
In addition to Lawson and Dotson’s double-figure scoring performances, Vick continued to have the hot hand for the Jayhawks, as he collected 15 points in 43 minutes played, his fourth-straight contest in which he has scored in double-figures. Azubuike and Moore both chipped in nine while K.J. Lawson contributed eight and freshman guard Quentin Grimes rounded out the Jayhawks’ scoring with five points.
QUOTES // Full Quotes
Head coach Bill Self
On tonight’s game:
“We obviously played makeshift lineups tonight and didn’t play particularly well at all offensively. They had a lot to do with that defensively, and we didn’t have Marcus [Garrett] and had a couple starters really struggle and somehow found a way to hang in there. Charlie [Moore] and K.J. [Lawson] were great off the bench and played a key role. It was a good grind-it-out, tough win; it wasn’t artistic at all but certainly I think we need to learn how to win that way and this team has never really done that but we were able to do that tonight.”
On his conclusions from this week:
“We got to get a lot better than what we are. We certainly need to be mentally tougher in some ways. We have to execute better and carry out assignments better, but I do think this: it’s ok to win ugly. Winning ugly is actually pretty at the end of the day and we won a game today where artistically it wasn’t very good but we’ve won a lot of games over the years where we didn’t look very good but we just hung around and found a way so I think it gives our guys some confidence.”
Redshirt forward Dedric Lawson
On his performance:
“In overtime I just wanted to be aggressive. I came out and knew that the score was 0-0 and it was a new game. Originally I wanted to win. I wanted to win very badly and I tried to do everything I could to seal the deal.”
On playing with his brother, K.J. Lawson:
“He had my back, I had his back and we look after each other. We’ve been playing this game so long and I’m just glad to see my brother get a chance to go out there and play. I thought he played terrific. He came out there with high energy… he’s a competitor.”
NOTABLES // Full Notes
- The win made Kansas 20-3 all-time in the NIT Season Tip-Off and gave KU its fourth NIT title.
- The victory gave the Jayhawks their 13th-straight regular-season victory over a top-10 ranked team.
- KU’s win moved its record to 15-3 against AP top-10 teams since the 2015-16 season.
- The win gave KU its third-straight win in an overtime game and pushed its record to 7-2 in its last nine overtime games. KU is now 21-9 in games that go to overtime under Bill Self.
- The Jayhawks’ win gave them their fifth-straight in-season tournament championship, a streak which began in 2014.
- Kansas shot 50 percent for the game marking the second time the Jayhawks shot 50 percent from the field this season.
- Kansas’ five 3-pointers tied for a season low. The Jayhawks also only made five treys against Marquette in the NIT semifinals. Prior to Marquette, the last time Kansas made five or fewer 3-pointers and won the game was at Baylor (5-for-20) in a 67-65 win on Feb. 18, 2017.
- With Tennessee building a nine-point lead (45-36) with 16:06 left in regulation, Kansas has now trailed by eight or more points in each of its last four games.
- KU went on to win each by six or more points. KU also set season highs in free throws made (22) and free throws attempted (34).
- Kansas outrebounded Tennessee, 43-40, and has outrebounded all five opponents this season.
- KU’s 48 points in the paint were its most this season and the most since the Jayhawks tallied 58 paint points against Oakland on Nov. 24, 2017.
- The Jayhawks’ 18 points in overtime were their most since also scoring 18 points in a 97-89 win over Iowa State in Lawrence on Jan. 3, 2013.
- Dedric Lawson’s 24 points and 13 rebounds marked the 39th double-double of his collegiate career and his third as a Jayhawk.
- The performance also give Lawson the third 20+ point outing as a Jayhawk and the 17th of his collegiate career.
- Lawson scored 17 of his points in the second half and overtime.
- Lawson became the third Jayhawk to be named Most Valuable Player of the NIT Season Tip-Off joining Mark Randall (1989), Richard Scott (1993) and Paul Pierce (1997).
- K.J. Lawson had his best game as a Jayhawk, playing 19 minutes with a season-high eight points, six rebounds and two steals. His six boards tied for his season high as he also pulled six rebounds against Michigan State in the season opener.
Kansas returns home to host Stanford on Saturday, Dec. 1, at 4:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN. Stanford is coached by former KU guard Jerod Haase, who is in his third season with the Cardinal. Haase played three seasons at Kansas from 1995-97.
In a series that dates back to 1932, Kansas is 10-3 versus Stanford and the Jayhawks have won the last two meetings in each of the last two seasons: 89-74 on Dec 3, 2016, in Allen Fieldhouse and 75-54 on Dec. 21, 2017, in Sacramento, California.
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