At some stage of the onslaught, as a five-point lead became 10, and a 10-point lead turned into 20, Kansas forward Landen Lucas leaned back in his folding chair on the bench. In the aftermath of a Lagerald Vick pirouette for a dunk, Lucas caught the attention of teammate Tyler Self.
“Damn,” Lucas said, his eyebrows raised.
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On a night in which he was labeled a potential key — or perhaps even the key — this was how Lucas spent the majority of the second half Thursday. As KU pulled away for a 98-66 victory against Purdue, Lucas was a spectator, reacting to each play as if he was relaxed at home on his couch, cycling through scenes in a movie.
“I kinda enjoyed it, to be honest,” Lucas said. “I mean, if my team is going to expand the lead, I’m not going to complain.”
The lead was five points when a third foul sent Lucas to the bench with 15:28 remaining in the second half. During a senior night introduction earlier this month, coach Bill Self illustrated his worry if his lone starting post player would fall into foul trouble. KU wing Josh Jackson says Self reiterates the point during practice.
The concern was even heightened Thursday in a game in which it seemed Kansas could least afford to lose Lucas — with national player of the year candidate Caleb Swanigan and reserve 7-foot-2 center Isaac Haas manning the front line for Purdue.
Instead, the lead grew. And quickly.
Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham outscored Purdue after halftime, and Dwight Coleby and Carlton Bragg took Lucas’ place. Swanigan clipped his season average with 18 points, but Haas did not score after halftime. The duo combined for only nine rebounds. Bragg had six.
The lead was 27 points before Lucas walked onto the court with 4:19 remaining.
“They’re a huge challenge,” Coleby said. “They’re really big, especially the other one — he’s 7-2? He’s huge. (I) just had to play them straight up and not foul.”
Lucas’ stint on the bench lasted more than 11 minutes.
At one point, he said he nudged an assistant coach to inform him he was ready to return. “Just a natural habit,” he said. Eventually, he gave up on the idea.
“Well, I might not even go back in the game at all,” he recalled thinking. “I’m OK with it, obviously. I know it’s important to get everybody going, (to get) everybody on the same page.”
Kansas plays Oregon fewer than 48 hours after its victory over Purdue concluded. Lucas’ body was taxed with only 20 minutes Thursday — the second lowest total since Dec. 10.
“It was great for my body, and moving forward, it’s definitely going to pay off,” Lucas said, “Even maybe 10 minutes (on the floor), that feels like probably a whole other game on my body because of how big they are.”