Perry Ellis took his seat in a somber Kansas locker room Sunday and searched for the proper way to explain what transpired during a 78-65 loss to Wichita State in the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament at CenturyLink Center.
He stared down at his white shorts, stained with blood from a first-half collision with Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet that required medical attention and temporarily forced him out of the game. Then he tilted his eyes back up and mustered four words.
“It’s tough,” Ellis said. “Real tough.”
This loss was understandably frustrating for Ellis, a Wichita Heights High School graduate playing against his hometown college. He wanted to play well for all the normal reasons, namely helping the No. 2-seed Jayhawks advance to the Sweet 16. And he did play well, scoring 17 points and grabbing eight rebounds in 34 minutes. But he received little help from his frontcourt teammates — KU was outscored 28-20 in the paint — and his team lost to an opponent filled with friendly faces.
All he could do was congratulate them.
“They played a great game, and we had trouble running offense because they were playing defense so well,” Ellis said. “They are definitely tough, but they played better than us.”
Ellis did all he could to keep Kansas in the game, guiding the Jayhawks to a 24-16 lead midway through the first half. Then Wichita State made a run, and he had to leave the game with a bloody nose. He feared it was broken at first, but trainers were able to tend to the injury quickly. He returned to the floor in the first half with gauze sticking out his nostrils.
“I was just trying to stop the bleeding and check it out,” Ellis said. “It was a pretty good hit. He got me good.”
Self downplayed the significance of Ellis playing hurt.
“We need to play through Perry,” Self said. “The bottom line is, he went out for a short period of time, but he still played ample minutes. We would have had to sub for him anyway, just because of the minutes he played.”
Ellis was the lone KU forward that played up to expectations against Wichita State. He got to the free-throw line 10 times, making nine, and continually made things difficult on the Shockers inside.
“I was just trying to be aggressive and attack,” Ellis said. “That was the key. They were playing so aggressive, so if I play aggressive back it is easy to get a call.”
It wasn’t enough, with Landen Lucas scoring two points and Jamari Traylor scored four. He didn’t have enough support.
“He went through a lot of ups and downs, and I know this game meant a lot to him,” Lucas said. “I am proud of the way he finished it off.
“We felt like we had the advantage inside, but when (Self) starts calling plays, it is too late in the season to have mental lapses and not do what he wants. We had mental lapses and it grew and grew until we were too far behind. Everyone started doing their own thing. That’s not how you beat a very good team like Wichita State.”
Ellis finished the season averaging nearly 14 points and seven rebounds. He was an all-conference selection, and he figures to be one of the nation’s top seniors next season, if he chooses to return to Kansas.
He played so well at times this year that some have said he has become an NBA Draft candidate.
For what it’s worth, Ellis does not know what he will do. He was in no mood to make a decision after a season-ending loss.
“My mind is all on the season,” Ellis said. “Whatever happens, happens. I wasn’t worried about that. I wasn’t thinking about that at all. I am still just trying to regroup with my team and go from there. I’m not sure yet.”