Before coach Bill Self could enter the halftime locker room, Kansas’ guards huddled up the team on their own.
It was time to figure out how to crack Purdue’s defense. And Devonté Graham had a plan.
“I actually think that was me who said that we should do the high pick-and-roll,” Graham, who played at Broughton High School, said with a laugh. “So yeah, I’m going to take credit for that.”
We all know how this ended. KU scored 51 second-half points in a 98-66 rout of Purdue on Thursday night at the Sprint Center. It scored 1.40 points per possession — the most against the Boilermakers in the last three seasons.
What was the secret? At least part of it, Graham says, was a small adjustment he suggested himself.
From his view on the court, Graham believed his team’s high ball screens were being set too close to the free-throw line. This was bailing out Purdue big men Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan, who were able to remain in the lane to cut off driving angles.
Set the ball screens farther out, Graham figured, and KU’s guards would have more space to get momentum off the dribble while putting a Purdue defender in a tough spot.
“We came out and did it late,” Graham said. “Me and Frank (Mason) did a good job picking it apart.”
Graham was ready to go after Swanigan and Haas. And for four consecutive possessions late in the second half, he ran his own play to near-perfection.
With 6:30 left, Josh Jackson came to set a ball screen before Graham waved him off. He gestured for Carlton Bragg to come up top instead, which gave the guard a chance to attack the 7-foot-2 Haas.
Bragg set the screen in the new location – outside the 3-point line – and Graham drove past Haas to draw a foul.
Graham repeated this three more times.
Purdue’s Dakota Mathias went over the next screen but gave Graham too much space as he rose up and hit a 3.
Self signaled for Jackson to set the screen the next time down, but Graham flipped his wrist, motioning that he wanted Bragg to come up instead. What followed was a one-on-one matchup with Swanigan, who couldn’t stay with Graham as he hit a jumper from the elbow.
The same thing worked on a fourth and final possession. Bragg came up for the screen, Swanigan backed off, and Graham elevated for a 3-pointer, also drawing a foul on the late-arriving forward.
“(The big man’s) got to choose to either go over or go under,” Graham said. “We’re just being aggressive attacking him.”
KU scored 51 points on 33 second-half possessions, carving up a Purdue defense that entered as one of the top 25 teams in adjusted defensive efficiency.
“They were getting the matchups they wanted,” Purdue guard P.J. Thompson said, “and they were going by guys.”
Graham gave credit to Self as well. There were times in the second half when the KU coach asked his guards what sets they wanted to run.
“He’s definitely got that trust and confidence in us,” Graham said.
That certainly has paid off so far.
Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell