Kansas basketball left paradise with the experience of a March-worthy tilt under its belt.
As Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike illustrated, the team also came away from its Maui Invitational triumph with unquestionably two of the nation’s best players.
Dotson scored 31 points and Azubuike notched 29, both career-highs, and the No. 4-ranked Jayhawks edged upstart Dayton 90-84 in overtime in a thrilling finale to the three-game, three-day tournament Wednesday at Lahaina Civic Center in Lahaina, Hawaii. Marcus Garrett pitched in 18 points and seven rebounds to round out what was a three-headed monster for KU.
Dotson and Azubuike were named co-MVPs after the outcome, which delivered KU its third-ever Maui Invitational championship and a sixth straight holiday tournament victory.
“Unbelievable game,” KU coach Bill Self said in his postgame radio interview. “I told our guys: It’s probably better to be tough than real smart, because we didn’t play smart at all. But we were tough and we competed. I mean, we competed just about every possession. ...
“We competed so hard. I’m so proud of ’em.”
In a tit-for-tat tilt that saw 20 lead changes, the Jayhawks (6-1) came away with the last laugh.
Trailing 66-58 with just seven minutes remaining in regulation, the sophomore point guard Dotson kick-started and orchestrated an 11-0 run, a rally capped with a bucket through contact and free-throw conversion by the 7-foot senior center Azubuike. That pivotal make delivered a 69-66 edge for KU with 2:25 left.
The teams traded blows until Jalen Crutcher’s 3-point make with three seconds remaining — part of a 16-for-33 showing for the Flyers (5-1) from beyond the arc — locked the game at 73-all. KU’s Isaiah Moss was just off on a half-court prayer at the buzzer, sending the game to its extra session.
“The bottom line is they outscored us by 36 points from 3-point land,” said Self, whose Jayhawks went 4-for-11 from distance. “If you would think you’re going to get outscored by 36 points from 3 and you only outscore them by six from the free-throw line, you’re going to get your butt beat every night. But jamming the ball inside certainly paid off.”
That was certainly true in overtime, which belonged to Azubuike.
The Delta, Nigeria, native scored KU’s first nine points of the extra session, with the most notable makes coming from the stripe — a 31.8-percent free-throw shooter this season entering Wednesday’s game, Azubuike hit his last four tries to finish a respectable 5-for-8. His final field goal, another and-1 conversion, gave KU an 82-78 lead with 2:46 left in overtime.
Azubuike finished 12-for-15 shooting with three rebounds and four blocked shots.
“We said all along that we have the best big in the country, and today he played like it,” Self said of Azubuike. "... He’s great. He doesn’t rebound like he should, he doesn’t do a lot of things like we think he should, but you know, he can compete. He took it right at their big guy.”
Dayton finally ran out of steam in the game's home stretch, held scoreless in the overtime period's final 3:06 on an 0-for-4 shooting mark. Dotson's layup with 1:29 remaining created an 85-82 lead and capped the guard's scoring on the 11-for-16 afternoon, while Garrett accounted for KU's last five points on a layup and three free-throw conversions.
“Three guys got 78 out of 90 (points) Think about that,” Self said. “Och (Agbaji) didn’t make any shots, Isaiah (Moss) didn’t scratch, our bench ... scored three points. That was awful. But we can get better. That was so much fun to watch the kids compete. ...
“That was fun to watch. We can be so much better than what we played, but you know, that’s one of the best teams in the country we played too.”
Ryan Mikesell’s 19-point outing paced the Flyers, who also got 18 points on just 6-for-11 shooting and nine rebounds from standout sophomore forward Obi Toppin. A potential NBA Draft lottery pick who averaged 24 points across Dayton’s first five games, Toppin was largely held in check, held without a field goal make across the game’s first 14-plus minutes.
“There’s no ‘probably’ — he’s a lottery pick,” Self said of Toppin. “I don’t know that (the KU players) had any extra motivation (by Toppin's hype). I think the talk that was on television, and we talked about it, is everybody was saying Dayton is without question the best team in Maui. And they are terrific, they’re terrific. That was a coin-flip game. We won the game obviously at the end of regulation, then gave them life, and then we played pretty flawless in overtime. But they’re good.”
KU returns to action against former Big 12 foe Colorado at 6 p.m. Dec. 7 in Lawrence.
A more immediate itinerary, though, wasn’t completely clear to Self.
“I’m tired. I need to shower after the guys doused me with Gatorade. I don’t know," Self said. “I do think the guys should enjoy the last 24 hours here, I do. And hopefully they will, just as long as they stick together.”