A premiere top-five showdown is no longer in play for college basketball fans this Thanksgiving week.
But a Maui Invitational tournament championship, and an opportunity to rise in the polls, are still very much in the cards for No. 4 Kansas.
The Jayhawks defeated Division II-level foe Chaminade 93-63 on Monday at Lahaina Civic Center in Lahaina, Hawaii, an opening-round victory that propelled Bill Self’s squad into a semifinal against BYU at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. Devon Dotson scored 19 points to pace a KU attack that featured five players reaching double-figure scoring.
The three-day tournament’s only other ranked squad, No. 3 Michigan State, fell into the losers’ bracket on a 71-66 defeat to 13-point underdog Virginia Tech in an earlier tipoff.
“We got one under our belt,” Self said in his postgame radio interview. “It’s kind of been a wacky first day here, so trust me, that came into my mind when we were down (7-3) to start the game.”
KU (4-1) indeed fell into an early four-point hole, but that proved to be the game’s only real drama.
The Jayhawks followed that quick deficit with a 17-0 rally. Marcus Garrett kick-started it with a pair of layups, Ochai Agbaji and Isaiah Moss hit back-to-back 3s, and Dotson converted a layup and a trey of his own for the 18-7 lead. David McCormack's midrange shot capped the stretch, which gave KU a double-digit edge it wouldn't surrender the rest of the way.
“I thought actually that Dot, Marcus and Ochai all played really well the first half,” Self said. “I didn’t think anybody else — and Isaiah made a couple shots — but I didn’t think anybody else really did.”
Udoka Azubuike went scoreless in just seven first-half minutes, saddled to the bench with foul trouble. McCormack and Silvio De Sousa, the team’s other two frontcourt players, “didn’t really do a lot” in the opening period, Self observed. Yet KU still went into the break with a 47-27 advantage, thanks in large part to 16 turnovers in the period for the Silverswords (2-1).
Agbaji, who entered the Maui Invitational in the midst of a funk, helped build the lopsided lead, drilling three 3s before intermission. He also authored arguably the highlight of the game, stealing a ball and driving by three defenders for a fastbreak dunk through traffic.
Agbaji finished the game with 11 points, with Self indicating he was pleased with the sophomore guard’s aggressiveness despite the recent slump.
“That’s what players should do, is get in a little bit of rhythm,” Self said. “If you’re struggling with your confidence a little bit, then do something to get you confidence (other) than maybe try to make the hardest play right when a game starts or the first time you check in. So yeah, we did some good things in that regard.”
The second half was the Azubuike show, with the 7-footer all of his 15 points on 7-for-8 shooting in the period. His dunk on a perfectly placed lob from Garrett pushed the KU advantage to 61-33, and later, Azubuike converted a forceful putback jam to make the Jayhawk lead 83-48 with 5:10 remaining.
Still, Self came away wanting more out of McCormack (10 points and two rebounds in 17 minutes) and De Sousa (four points and two rebounds in 11 minutes).
“Other than Doke, our bigs don’t play big,” Self said. “I don’t know that we can stay playing two bigs much longer because it’s just not very good when they’re both in there.”
Dotson wasn’t immune from Self’s criticism either.
On a day where KU finished with 17 assists and 14 turnovers, the sophomore point guard himself had just one assist, a number Self called “unacceptable.”
“Dot missed three open lobs today,” Self said. “You know, those are plays we just take for granted in the past. He missed three guys that were wide-open, and two of ’em ended up being turnovers and one of ’em he didn’t throw. So we’ve got to get better at those things. If we’re going to play to that, then we’ve got to be able to execute and throw it.”
Moss finished with 13 points and three of the Jayhawks' 12 made 3s, while Agbaji scored 11 points to round out the double-figure scorers for KU.
While a marquee matchup with Michigan State is off the table, one would assume the score of KU fans that made the trip to The Aloha State would be just fine with a tournament victory — Self estimated 2,000 of the 2,400-seat capacity at Lahaina Civic Center were KU fans.
“It’s amazing how much support we get wherever we travel,” Self said, “but our fans love coming over here.”