The nation’s top-ranked team is no longer unblemished, and its days in that position appear numbered.
Kansas basketball dropped its first contest of the season Saturday night against No. 18 Arizona State at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Ariz., falling 80-76 on a late collapse. The Jayhawks got a dominant 30-point, 14-rebound showing from star junior forward Dedric Lawson but little else offensively, leading for 37-plus minutes until a late 9-0 run from the Sun Devils upended the road team in front of a raucous home environment.
Trailing by two in the final minute, KU committed turnovers on back-to-back possessions to seal the outcome. All told, KU was held without a field goal make in the final 4:58 of the defeat.
“It’s Christmas and we were in the giving spirit,” said KU coach Bill Self in his postgame radio comments, “because that was our game and we let it get away.”
Up 12 at one point in the first half — the Jayhawks (10-1) got 18 points, eight rebounds and a beautiful spin-move layup that rendered helpless ASU counterpart Zylan Cheatham from Lawson, all in the opening period — KU went ice-cold down the stretch. Senior guard Lagerald Vick’s four-point play gave KU a seven-point lead, 72-65, with 4:58 left on the clock, but from that point forward, the Jayhawks missed their final four field goal attempts — all 3s — and committed four turnovers.
The Sun Devils (9-2), meanwhile, came to life on the strength of reserve guard Rob Edwards, who entered the contest averaging seven points but finished with a team-high 15, including 13 in the second half. His made 3-pointer with 2:23 left capped the 9-0 run for ASU, and while Lawson hit a pair of free-throw attempts at the 1:17 mark to lock the score at 76-all, the Sun Devil took the lead for good on a Remy Martin jumper just past the free-throw line with 59 seconds to go.
KU committed turnovers on its ensuing two offensive possessions, and Edwards drained a pair from the stripe with six seconds left to ice the outcome and moments later send legions of the 14,000-plus in attendance streaming and screaming onto the court.
“They were much better than us the second half, and we were much better than them the first half,” Self said. “We obviously didn’t close the game well at all. Our defense wasn’t any good. They got what they wanted.”
Despite the late collapse, KU still had an opportunity to tie or take the lead at the finish.
Self called a timeout with his team down two and 22 seconds left, but apparent miscommunication in the hostile environment — the Jayhawks were playing their first true road contest of the season — led to a critical snafu.
“I did a terrible job in the last timeout,” Self said. “We’ve got a play called ‘black.’ I said, ‘Run it like black but there’s no lob.’ It’s loud and Lagerald doesn’t hear me say ‘no lob,’ so he goes backdoor, so the play is dead.”
Vick, who committed an offensive foul on KU’s previous possession by running into Martin after handing off to a teammate near the top of the key, eventually got his hands on the ball on that possession. But a slightly-off pass back to Devon Dotson hit off the freshman guard’s hands and went into the backcourt, a turnover with 6.9 seconds left via an over-and-back call.
Self took issue with the violation in his postgame remarks.
“I actually think the deflection in the backcourt was a bad call,” Self said. “I think it should’ve been our ball because I thought they deflected it before it hit Devon in the hands, and the rule has changed now. If there’s a deflection that leads to a deflection you play it live. There is no over-and-back. Who knows? It’s not reviewable, so who knows what the deal is?
“Still, to not get a shot out of the timeout, that’s certainly on me.”
Squandered was Lawson’s eighth double-double and eighth game with at least 20 points scored. His final shot attempt, a successful short jumper in the paint, came with 8:15 left in the game.
“He was terrific, there’s no question about that,” Self said, “but when we’re not making shots he’s got to touch it every time and we had some individuals that aren’t making shots and still kept shooting, which is good to have confidence and to keep firing, but not at game point. He had to get a touch every possession and we didn’t do that.”
Vick finished with 14 points on 5-for-16 shooting and Dotson 12 on 4-for-7 shooting to round out the double-figure scorers for the Jayhawks, who committed 16 turnovers in the contest. Edwards’ 15 paced five Sun Devils to score at least 10.
KU concludes its pre-Big 12 schedule with a 1 p.m. Dec. 29 home date against Eastern Michigan. The team will reconvene Dec. 26, and Self is hopeful his squad will come armed with new information and insight afforded from Saturday’s first setback.
“Even though there’s no excuse for blowing a lead on everybody’s part — coaches, players, all that stuff — we’ve had to fight harder than probably what we anticipated fighting in the nonconference,” Self said. “We’re a tired team, so we need to get our batteries recharged.”