So much about this was atypical for Devonte Graham, from his 4-for-12 shooting night to the five minutes he spent on the bench in foul trouble, running his season total to 50. He's still going to have a chance to go to the first Final Four of his career. But the Raleigh native is going to have to go through another ACC team to do it.
The way Kansas played Friday, even with Graham not quite at his best, whichever team has to play the Jayhawks on Sunday, whether that's Duke or Syracuse, is going to have its hands full. The Jayhawks were up 20 before Clemson made a second-half run en route to an 80-76 Kansas win. Kansas is big, fast, experienced and playing in front of a de facto home crowd. There was even a Broughton jersey in the Kansas family section behind the bench Friday.
(They're already advertising tickets for next year in Des Moines, Iowa, and Kansas City; people complain about the North Carolina schools getting a first-weekend site close to home every year, but do Kansas fans ever have to get on a plane?)
“It was a rough game for me, but all that matters this time of the year is advancing and I’m just happy that we pulled it out,” Graham said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
The long journey that brought Graham to Kansas took him far away from home, but this will be a home game and a sort of homecoming for Graham, either way, facing a pair of ACC opponents. There's really only one thing left for him to accomplish in his career, and that's the NCAA tournament success that has so far eluded him: losses in regional finals the past two years and the second round as a freshman.
Graham had, over the course of his career, played two ACC teams. They happen to be Duke and Syracuse, both Kansas wins – over Duke in the Champions Classic last season, over Syracuse in a neutral-site game in Miami this season. Throw in Friday night, and he's 3-0 against the conference.
Friday, Graham's biggest play might have been an offensive rebound with 1:57 to go that recycled possession for Kansas and wasted valuable time after Clemson cut the Jayhawks' lead – once as large as 20 points – down to six.
Kansas held on. Another ACC team stands between Graham and the Final Four. It's almost like things are coming full circle for him, away from home and yet unable to get away from home.
“I wanted to get back to this game so bad,” Graham said. “Hopefully we can get over this hump.”
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock