LAWRENCE — Mitch Lightfoot lifted Dikembe Mutombo’s famous mannerism, wagging his finger midway through Monday night’s high-profile home tilt versus rival Kansas State.
The fan favorite’s gesture came after a crowd-pleasing block of the Wildcats’ Makol Mawien, but at a more macro level, the not-so-fast moment could’ve just as well been saying something else:
The chase for the Big 12 championship isn’t over, and the perennial champion isn't dead just yet.
Dedric Lawson scored 18 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, Lightfoot scored nine points and swatted four shots off the bench, and No. 15-ranked Kansas easily dispatched No. 16 K-State 64-49 at Allen Fieldhouse. With the victory, KU pulled one game behind first-place K-State with three games remaining in its pursuit of a national record-extending 15th consecutive conference championship. Texas Tech, which routed the Jayhawks 91-62 on Saturday night, moved to a half-game back of the Wildcats.
Devon Dotson (16 points) and Quentin Grimes (12) rounded out the double-figure scorers for KU, with Grimes posting his first 10-plus-point performance in Big 12 play since Jan. 5. Kamau Stokes (12 points) was the only player in double-figures for the Wildcats, with fellow seniors Barry Brown and Dean Wade combining for just 12 points on 3-for-15 shooting on an evening where K-State shot just 23.5 percent in the second half.
The Jayhawks (21-7, 10-5 Big 12) led by seven at the break despite a dire shooting start.
KU missed its first seven field goal attempts and converted just 10 of 24 tries in the opening half, falling into an early 10-3 hole on a falling 3-pointer from Xavier Sneed. The Wildcats, though, struggled to capitalize — while the team finished the first period 10-for-22 overall and 5-for-9 from 3, it got only 11 minutes from Wade and just six from Mawien, the starters battling foul trouble.
The Jayhawks took full advantage. A Lightfoot layup through contact coaxed Wade’s second foul at the 8:48 mark, the second bucket of a 12-2 run for the home squad. Lightfoot’s trey from the top of the key capped the stretch, with the junior forward throwing up 3-point hand gestures and sticking his tongue out after giving his team a 23-17 edge with 6:35 remaining. The reserve played 15 first-half minutes, scoring eight points.
Stokes hit a pair of shots — a 3-pointer and a midrange jumper — in the period’s final minutes to help make the halftime deficit, 34-27, more manageable for the Wildcats (21-7, 11-4). Sneed’s eight opening-period points paced the visiting group.
But Lightfoot, who started the second half, had no problem carrying over his hot start.
The 6-foot-8, 225-pounder blocked three shots in K-State’s first three second-period possessions, including a pair on a single possession. The Jayhawks built their lead to 41-27 over that stretch, with a Grimes guarded 3-pointer giving the team its 14-point advantage.
Stokes ended the Wildcats’ 0-for-10 shooting start in the second half with a 3-pointer, and Wade finally scored his first points with his own trey on the following possession to cut the deficit to eight with 15:16 remaining. It would get no closer, though — Dotson responded with a driving layup and a 3-pointer to re-establish a 13-point lead, Wade picked up his third foul a short time later, and with 8:51 left, Lightfoot hauled in a huge offensive rebound and kicked out to Charlie Moore, whose downtown make gave KU a 16-point advantage.
The Jayhawks’ lead never dipped below double-figures the rest of the way, with two chants breaking out in the game’s final two minutes: the traditional “Rock Chalk,” and “This is our state.”
KU continues play with an 11 a.m. Saturday contest against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., while K-State will battle Baylor in a 7 p.m. tilt later that day in Manhattan. No. 14 Texas Tech, which entered Monday one game back of the Wildcats, plays host to the Cowboys at 6 p.m. Wednesday.