MIAMI — Devonte’ Graham could only come up with one lowlight in a trip to South Beach that was wildly successful both personally and for the senior guard’s No. 2-ranked Kansas squad.
“I thought we were going to be in the Heat locker room,” Graham said. “I kind of got excited about that, but we didn’t get to get in there. But it’s still nice just to play in these types of arenas.”
He certainly looked like he belonged in the NBA facility — and on the big stage.
Graham scored a career-high-tying 35 points in Saturday’s 76-60 victory over Syracuse at AmericanAirlines Arena, draining seven 3-pointers along the way in the full 40-minute performance.
Heating up on offense, Graham has now posted 35 points in back-to-back games and is averaging 18.6 points on the season for the Jayhawks (7-0).
“My shot just was falling the last two games,” Graham said. “The previous games before that I wasn’t shooting the ball really well, so it’s just good to see the ball go in the hole.”
Graham is also averaging eight assists, the fifth-highest total in the country, and has three double-digit assist games in seven contests. On balancing ball distribution and scoring aggressiveness, the point guard indicated the formula is simple.
“It’s just whatever the flow of the game is,” Graham said. “You know, I just try to be aggressive and if I can get in the paint and make plays for others then I’m just going to try to do that — make the right play each and every time.”
KU coach Bill Self appears trusting in Graham’s ability to find the proper balance.
“The thing with Devonte’, he is a point guard but he’s also a scoring point guard,” Self said. “I mean he’s a guy that can score or make a pass to finish a play, a lot of that. I don’t think him taking that many shots is a negative — 17 doesn’t seem like a lot of shots to get 35, (though) he did have eight free throws.
“I don’t think that’s a negative at all. I don’t think it’s something that will be a nightly thing. I think we’re better when we have balance and he’d probably agree with that, but on a night when we basically didn’t have much going on, he needed to do that. He picked his spots well.”
Graham put the KU offense on his back at the end of the first half, scoring the team’s final 14 points to turn a four-point lead into a 35-21 advantage at the break. Graham hit three 3-pointers in the period’s final three minutes, aiding the career-high seven-trey effort.
“Just being confident shooting the ball and being aggressive,” Graham said of his first-half finish. “Coach kept telling me to be aggressive, coach Rob (Norm Roberts) kept telling me to be more aggressive. Just trying to give us a spark.”
The Jayhawks’ play of the night didn’t come on a Graham bucket, but the guard did have a big role in the highlight-reel moment.
With KU leading 62-47 and 7:44 to play in the game, Graham dribbled about 5 feet from the top of the key when he spotted teammate Lagerald Vick streaking at the baseline, executing a set play. From there, Graham lofted up a lob that Vick flushed home with his left hand, eliciting a roar from the crowd and a timeout by Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.
The most electric of Graham’s five assists, though, was arguably the ball he felt least comfortable leaving his hands.
“I’ve been throwing him pretty bad alley-oops lately in games, throwing it too far back,” Graham said. “When I threw it to him I thought he wasn’t gonna catch it, there was no way he was going to catch it because it was too far, but he went up and made a great, athletic play. Hopefully we make SportsCenter.”
Self, sitting to Graham’s left at the postgame news conference, smiled at that last line.
Graham may not have gotten to use the Heat locker room, but he still found himself soaking in the atmosphere.
“LeBron’s my favorite player,” Graham said, “so you’re just seeing all the stuff with him and championships, Ray Allen and all the guys, Mario Chalmers’ picture is up there. We were just looking at the venue before at shootaround.”
For the NBA hopeful, it may have just been a taste of what’s to come.