College Sports

How some Devonté Graham words helped KU ... long after they were spoken

The moment will likely be forgotten.

Kansas ended up taking a . The Jayhawks put their walk-ons in at the end, covered the Vegas spread and didn't have much game pressure on them in the final minutes. relatively easy 76-60 victory over Penn

And yet, there was a time in the second half when Penn believed it could win again. It was at the 11:21 mark, after a three by Caleb Wood, when one of his teammates celebrated on the bench by swinging his arm like a pendulum while another cocked his right elbow back to send an imaginary three-point arrow into the sky.

The Quakers had seen the best of KU and answered. They trailed just 52-48 after making consecutive shots, so what followed was important.

And though Devonté Graham didn't make the play for KU, he still was plenty responsible for what happened next.

Graham, a former standout at Broughton High School, curled around a Mitch Lightfoot screen and jump-stopped into the lane before having his angle cut off. He looked for help, lobbing a pass over a defender to Lagerald Vick.

KU didn't have much going ... until all of a sudden, Vick created it. Though defender Devon Goodman had good position, Vick faked right before driving left, taking two dribbles into the lane before drawing a shooting foul.

"He's got a quick first step, and a lot of guys don't have that," Graham said. "He can explode and get to the rim whenever he wants to."

Vick, though, needs to be reminded of that often.

And that's where Graham helped the Jayhawks even more than his 29 points and six assists would indicate.

Graham had 19 at halftime, but he also knew what was coming next. Penn would likely devote more defensive attention to him, which meant he was going to need some support.

After a Penn foul in the first minute of the second half, Graham wrapped his arm around Vick in the team huddle, with one word coming out clearly: "Drive."

It was all part of a greater message from Graham to Vick: Be aggressive. Seek out your shot.

"Just telling me to be more active," Vick said. "I'm feeding off his energy, and he's feeding off mine."

That was crucial a few times after that.

KU's coaches knew this was a potential mismatch. Goodman is listed at 6 feet, 160 pounds, while Vick is 6-5, 175 — and that didn't even take Vick's athleticism into account. There was even some talk before the game of the guard potentially posting up against Goodman.

Though that didn't happen, Vick still won his one-on-one. With 15:33 left, he was able to get to the lane off the drive before hitting a short jumper. At the 8:30 mark, he confidently knocked down an early-shot-clock three that pushed the Jayhawks' lead to double figures.

His most critical play, though, was when Penn still had hope. Vick — when KU's offense was stagnant — got fouled and then hit two free throws following a media timeout.

It was the start of a 7-0 run, and looking back, also the end of Penn's final rally against KU.

Vick's final line was solid. He had 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting, yet coach Bill Self's thoughts on him after the game were fitting.

"I still wish he'd drive the ball more," Self said, "but you know, he was good today."

That was especially the case on a meaningful possession. Vick — with help from a teammate — helped KU accomplish something significant on Thursday:

He ensured this 1-16 matchup would be a footnote — and not the story — of the Jayhawks' 2018 NCAA Tournament run.