LAWRENCE — On Friday, Kansas basketball freshman Devon Dotson hinted at “tweaks” being made to the team’s struggling offense.
Twenty-four hours later, the Jayhawks’ point guard oversaw an attack that, for at least one game, underwent something more akin to a facelift.
No. 11-ranked KU (17-5, 6-3 Big 12) drained a season-high 13 3-pointers in Saturday’s 79-63 victory over No. 16 Texas Tech, a throwback performance to teams of recent Jayhawk past in the drubbing of one of the nation’s most efficient defenses.
Buoyed by a five-out look that more often utilized junior forward and lone frontcourt starter Dedric Lawson behind the arc, KU also set a season-high in 3-point attempts with 30. The group entered attempting just 19.5 long-range tries per contest.
So, what changed? Were the Jayhawks indeed encouraged to simply let it fly?
Dotson answered that very question — or attempted to, at least.
“Um, no,” Dotson said. “But uh, I mean, you know, yeah. I mean, kinda. Kinda.”
“Devonte’ said some stuff before the game, shoot the ball and stuff,” Dotson continued. “But the looks were open. I’ll take them if they’re open, and I’ll just keep shooting.”
Yes, that Devonte’.
As Dotson, Lawson and head coach Bill Self later explained, the team’s former All-American point guard Devonte’ Graham filmed a selfie-style video message that was delivered to the KU players in the team’s film room just before the group ran out for their second set of warmups. Midway through his rookie campaign with the Charlotte Hornets, Graham touched on two themes: keep your chins up, and shoot the dang ball.
From the opening tipoff just minutes later, the Jayhawks heeded both demands.
“We showed a little pump-up video before the game and I didn’t know, I hadn’t seen it, and it was fine,” Self said. “But Devonte’ face-timed or did a deal today and he told ’em, ‘Hey, we never passed up open shots. I watch you guys and guys pass ‘em up all the time. Shoot it! I don’t care what Coach says. Shoot the ball.’ They listen to him more than they listen to me.”
Self, for the record, also wanted his group to shoot more open 3s. Whether the message needed to be delivered from the former heart and soul of the program will remain unknown, but Self at least came away from the lopsided and cathartic victory pleased with his squad’s bounce-back resolve.
“The guys played great. I’m really proud and happy for them,” Self said. “The difference was that we played with a lot better energy and togetherness. You can try in your mind, but if you don’t play with energy, your try is never as good as your try when you play with energy and passion. We played with a lot of passion tonight.”
Energy and togetherness were certainly factors, but so were KU’s improved fortunes from 3.
The Jayhawks hit nine 3s in the first half alone, the most in a period since the Graham-led group from last year hit nine in the second half of the Big 12 Tournament final against West Virginia. Five different players hit 3s ahead of the break Saturday, including 3-for-3 efforts from Lawson and senior guard Lagerald Vick.
When the final buzzer sounded, KU also had three made 3s from Dotson, two from Quentin Grimes and one apiece from Ochai Agbaji and K.J. Lawson, bringing the final tally to 13.
The offensive tweaks installed following the Jayhawks’ defeat Tuesday at Texas weren’t just a one-game solution, said Dedric Lawson, who is likely to be the biggest beneficiary of the more spread-out sets. The 6-foot-9, 235-pounder has now made multiple 3s in four of his team’s last eight contests, raising his shooting percentage from beyond the arc to a respectable 33.3 percent.
“He’s shot it so much better from 3 of late, going even back to the Kentucky game,” Self said of Lawson, who finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds. “So I think getting him in space where he doesn’t feel like he’s being leaned on and laid on the whole time is going to be important for us moving forward.”
Self said his players will work on getting Vick looks early in the shot clock, mostly coming from the hands of Lawson and Dotson, who he wants handling the ball as often as possible. That strategy certainly worked against the Red Raiders — Dotson finished the game with a career-high 20 points on 7-for-12 shooting, four assists and three steals.
“The guy who controlled the game was Devon. He wasn’t good, he was great today,” Self said. “And I’m so happy for him because every time he made a mistake, he went and made up for it. ...
“I think it was his best game offensively. I mean, he was great. Every time he made a mistake he got it back. Certainly he shot the ball really, really well.”
In a game where the Jayhawks notched 19 assists, perhaps a 20th can be given to Graham, who delivered more than just a mandate to take more wide-open attempts.
“He just spoke about things that they went through last year — and I was a witness to that — how people counted them out, saying they was going to lose, that they weren’t a good team,” Lawson said. “Devonte’ said, ‘Just don’t worry about that. It’s early. It’s February. You’ve still got time to go out there and prove y’all selves.’ That was the message he gave to the young guys. ...
“He loves this place more than anybody I ever, ever met here. He’s the guy who wants to see us win more than anybody.”