In 2009, the Jayhawks went into Norman, Oklahoma to face a daunting task: knock off the No. 3 Sooners. With first place on the line in the Big 12, Sherron Collins and Tyshawn Taylor each scored 26 points, going into hero-ball mode down the stretch where they seemingly swished every big shot they took.
On Saturday, in frightfully similar circumstances, it was once again a point guard that led Kansas to an enormous road victory.
Devonte’ Graham scored a career-best 27 points, draining one huge three-pointer after another, to guide the No. 6 Jayhawks back to a 76-72 upset of the No. 3 Sooners. Defensively, Kansas held the nation’s best three-point shooting team to 31% from deep in a bend-but-don’t-break pattern.
Out of the gates, Oklahoma couldn’t buy a basket. The Sooners stumbled to a 20-6 early deficit by missing 18 of their first 20 shots. In the first 10 minutes of the game, the Sooners missed all nine of their three-point attempts. On the other end of the floor, the Jayhawks used long balls by Brannen Greene and Perry Ellis to open up a 14-point lead. Oklahoma made some shots at the end of the half to bring it closer, and after a nightmare half where Buddy Hield failed to make a field goal, the Sooners trailed by just five at intermission.
It took just 1:29 for Oklahoma to pull ahead in the second half. Isaiah Cousins and Buddy Hield drained threes to give the Sooners their first lead since the game was 2-0. In addition, the Kansas offense sputtered to allow Oklahoma to settle into a lead. With 8:30 left, OU stretched its advantage out to 56-50. Kansas was mired in a stretch that saw it make just one field goal over eight minutes. Considering the Jayhawks’ recent trend of wilting down the stretch in tough road games, few expected the next few minutes to unfold in the way that they did.
Over the last 8:30 of the contest, Kansas outscored Oklahoma 26-16. The Jayhawks went 10/12 from the free throw line. Wayne Selden hit a three, only his second basket of the game, to cap a 9-1 run that put the Jayhawks back in front. After Oklahoma pulled back ahead 62-59, right after Frank Mason fouled out, Graham went into superhero mode.
The sophomore guard drained a long two-point jumper to pull Kansas within one. Following an Oklahoma turnover, Graham buried a three to put KU in front, 64-62, with five minutes left. And two minutes later, with Oklahoma ahead by three again, Graham hit another long ball to tie the game at 69 apiece.
The biggest shot of the game, as well as Graham’s career, came with 2:18 to go in the game. The Sooners led, 71-70, and Brannen Greene had just missed a three-pointer. Perry Ellis pulled down the offensive board and flipped it to Graham in the corner, who pulled up and nailed his sixth three of the game. The Jayhawks went back ahead, 73-71, and they never trailed again.
With 26 seconds left in a two-point game, Graham fouled Hield, who was 8/8 from the free throw line. The player of the year favorite went to the line, looking to tie the game, and he buried the first free throw. Announcer Jay Bilas proclaimed that Hield “is not going to miss this free throw.” Hield, a 90% shooter from the foul line, promptly bricked the attempt, allowing Kansas to keep its slim lead.
Graham hit two free throws to give Kansas a three-point cushion. With 11 seconds left, Jamari Traylor put the game away by hitting a free shot of his own, sealing a four-point win for the Jayhawks.
The importance of the victory cannot be understated for Kansas, which moves back into a first-place tie with West Virginia in the Big 12. The Jayhawks earned the series sweep over the Sooners; KU has given Oklahoma two of its four losses this year. At 21-4 overall and 9-3 in league play, Kansas won its fifth straight game.
Hield, who has posted incredible numbers all year, including a career-high 46 points in the infamous first Oklahoma/Kansas meeting, was held to just five field goals on Saturday. His 5/15 line is well below his 52% average on shots this year, and he was held to “just” 5/11 from behind the three-point line.
In addition to being the leading scorer in a game full of offensive stars, Graham was the one defending Hield for the majority of the contest. Holding the Big 12’s leading scorer to 5/15 from the floor is no small feat. Graham smuthered Hield for the bulk of the first half – a half in which Hield did not make a basket.
It wasn’t just Hield who was struggling from the floor. As a team, the Sooners shot just 33%. They were 10/32 (31%) from three-point range. Jordan Woodard, who made six threes in the first contest, was 1/6. Kansas gave up some open looks, but for the most part, it guarded the perimeter well.
Up next for the Jayhawks: Kansas returns home for Big Monday against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys, who beat the Jayhawks by 19 in a stunning upset back in January, have lost nine of their last 10 games.
- Devonte’ Graham: 27 points (8/13 FG, 6/9 from three, 5/6 from the line). He played 39 minutes. Bill Self said after the game that his performance was “as good as anybody we’ve had in our time here.”
- Perry Ellis: 10 points (4/12 FG) and seven rebounds, which led the team. It was a weird game for him; it seemed like it would be a good matchup for him early, but he didn’t score in the second half. He did bring in two huge offensive rebounds, though.
- Frank Mason: 14 points (4/7 FG, 5/6 from the line). He played very well prior to fouling out, which opened the door for Graham to go bananas. He totaled 26 minutes.
- Wayne Selden: six points (2/9 FG, 1/5 from three) in 32 minutes. He struggled all day, but both of his baskets gave Kansas a second-half lead.
- Brannen Greene: nine points (4/8 FG, but just 1/5 from three) in 25 minutes. He played a lot and made some huge shots down the stretch.
- Landen Lucas: seven points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes. Another rock-solid performance by KU’s best center at this stage in the year.
- Jamari Traylor: one point in 11 minutes, but it iced the win for Kansas.
- Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg played seven and three minutes respectively, but it all came in the first half.
- As a team, the Jayhawks shot 46% from the floor, 42% from three, and 75% from the line.
- Oklahoma: 33%, 31%, 82%.
- The Jayhawks out-rebounded the Sooners, 38-36, despite giving up an eye-popping 15 offensive rebounds.