“It was an epic game … a respect game.” — Kansas coach Bill Self
“I don’t know that I’ve been in one better, other than the result, of course.” — Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger
The question came on Tuesday morning, barely 12 hours after No. 1 Kansas’ 109-106 victory over No. 2 Oklahoma, a living, breathing, pulsating triple-overtime epic inside Allen Fieldhouse. All who bore witness — the 16,300 in attendance or the record-breaking TV audience — had the same thought: That was one of the greatest college basketball games we’ve ever seen.
It was a triple-overtime game between two teams that owned No. 1 rankings, and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield went for 46 points on 23 shots, drawing an standing ovation from an opposing crowd, and five players logged more than 50 minutes, and one of those players, Kansas’ Frank Mason, made a steal that will become a part of instant KU lore, and all of this happened inside Allen Fieldhouse, and if you are a college basketball fan, we can probably stop here.
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In the course of 55 minutes, there were 13 lead changes. Kansas led by 11 points in the first and held an advantage for 19 minutes, 56 seconds. Oklahoma built a 10-point edge with 16:46 remaining and held the lead for 25:45. The win-probability chart looked like someone going through cardiac arrest.
But, yes, the question. Somebody wanted to know: Was this the best game I had ever covered inside Allen Fieldhouse? This is a hard question, and the answer, subjective as it is, really doesn’t matter. But as I tried to make sense of Monday night, I culled together a list of the five best games I’ve witnessed inside Allen Fieldhouse during my four-plus seasons on the Kansas beat. Here is my list — which could always change tomorrow.
5. The Ben McLemore Bank Game: Kansas 97, Iowa State 89, overtime | Jan. 9, 2013
Why it was awesome: Facing a rising Iowa State program in the Big 12 opener at Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas freshman guard Ben McLemore banked in a three-pointer in the final seconds, sending the game into overtime before the Jayhawks prevailed. McLemore’s three came on Self’s famed “Chop” play, the same play that freed Mario Chalmers during the 2008 NCAA title game. This time, McLemore used a fade screen on the opposite side of the ball. What made the play cooler: That same season, in the Champions Classic, McLemore had botched the “Chop” play during a loss to Michigan State. This time, he made one of the most memorable shots in recent Allen Fieldhouse history, finishing with 33 points on 6-of-6 shooting from three-point range, and saving the Jayhawks from losing a Big 12 opener for the first time in more than 20 years.
The enduring image: McLemore, sitting in the postgame press conference, making his case for the last-second shot. “When it left my hand,” he said. “I actually kind of called bank.”
4. The Backflip Game: Oklahoma State 85, Kansas 80 | Feb. 2, 2013
Why it was awesome: This is the only Kansas loss on the list. It was a Saturday afternoon game in early February, with the sunlight coming through Allen Fieldhouse’s windows. It featured an unbelievable individual performance — Oklahoma State freshman Marcus Smart had 25 points, nine rebounds and five steals — and it featured a crazy finish. Kansas led by six points with more than six minutes left before Oklahoma State closed with a big run.
It was also extremely well-played. The Cowboys averaged 1.18 points per possession — with guard Markel Brown going off for seven three-pointers on 10 attempts. The Jayhawks were nearly as efficient, averaging 1.11 points per possession.
The enduring image: As Marcus Smart punctuated the victory with a backflip on James Naismith Court, I’ll never forget the look on Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford’s face — a mix of shock and exhilaration, like a poker player who needed an ace on the river and got one.
3. The West Virginia Comeback Game: Kansas 76, West Virginia 69, overtime | March 3, 2015
Why it was awesome: This is, more or less, the most aesthetically unpleasing game on this list. At times, it was not pretty. But to this day, the comeback still seems inexplicable, even by Allen Fieldhouse standards.
The Jayhawks, who needed a victory to clinch the outright Big 12 title, trailed by 18 points in the first half. They trailed by eight points with just more than two minutes remaining. They also missed all 15 of their three-point attempts and were outrebounded by West Virginia 46-34. And, oh yeah, leading scorer Perry Ellis sprained his knee before halftime.
Somehow, the Jayhawks overcame the ridiculous odds (they had a 2.6 percent chance to win with 2:35 left, per KenPom.com) and pulled out the game in overtime.
The enduring image: In the moments after the game, with the Jayhawks preparing to cut down the nets, Self grabbed a microphone and said: “Wow, are you guys tired?” In that moment, Self declared the win as his best victory at Allen Fieldhouse, before later admitting he had momentarily forgot about the final Border War victory over Missouri.
2. The Buddy Hield Game: Kansas 109, Oklahoma 106, triple overtime | Jan. 4, 2016
Why it was awesome: OK, where do you start? Those in attendance saw one of the most brilliant individual performances in Allen Fieldhouse history, and they saw a triple-overtime game between the two top-ranked teams in the country. Considering the last such game came in the 1957 NCAA title game, it’s fair to say these are the type of games that only come around once every 60 years or so.
The enduring image: It’s easy to remember the standing ovation reserved for Hield after his postgame interview on ESPN. But I will remember two other moments. I will remember Hield’s eighth and final three-pointer in the third overtime, a guarded fadeaway that seemed to be shot with one hand. And I will remember Devonte’ Graham’s reaction when it went in, as if to say: Are you freaking kidding me?
I will also remember a Kansas fan sitting in the section across from the Oklahoma bench, near the corner where the Sooners left the floor. When the game was over, the man stepped near the tunnel and began clapping and shouting as Oklahoma’s players ran by: “Good job, Buddy! Way to play! Good job, Buddy!”
1. The Final Border War: Kansas 87, Missouri 86, overtime | Feb. 25, 2012
Why it was awesome: Just three weeks after playing an epic in Columbia — the Tigers came out victorious — No. 3 Missouri and No. 4 Kansas met at Allen Fieldhouse for the final regular-season installment of the rivalry. The Tigers’ backcourt of Phil Pressey, Marcus Denmon and Michael Dixon helped Mizzou take a 19-point lead in the second half. But the Jayhawks staged one of the finest comebacks in program history, sending the game into overtime after a block from Thomas Robinson in the final seconds.
More than anything, I think I will remember the emotion in the building. If you spend enough time in Allen Fieldhouse, you can get a feel for the building’s identity. It is a passionate place, and perhaps the loudest venue in all of college basketball. The place senses the moment better than just about any college basketball arena I’ve covered games in. But here’s the thing about Allen Fieldhouse: It can lack an edge — that tinge of anger that can permeate a building. It makes sense, of course. It’s hard to foster those emotions when you are the blue blood, when you are supposed to win. But that’s what made the final Border War different. There was a different edge to Allen Fieldhouse that day.
“That couldn’t have been scripted a lot better for us,” Self said. “I’m not the most emotional guy, but that’s about as good as it gets.”
The enduring image: When the game was over, Self thrust his hands in the air and basically went insane. He would later say, during his news conference, that his postgame reaction was meant as a message to the recruits visiting that weekend. OK. Sure.
Remembering Jamari Traylor’s blocks
When a game lasts 55 minutes, there are going to plays and moments that are overlooked and forgotten. Kansas senior forward Jamari Traylor had at least two. With the Jayhawks looking for a spark in the second half, Traylor came up with the block of the season, a chase-down rejection in transition.
Traylor is listed at 6 feet 8, but he is perhaps closer to 6 feet 7. Oklahoma’s Khadeem Lattin is 6 feet 9. How Traylor managed to pull this off, we’re not sure.
What made Traylor’s block more impressive, though, was not just its athleticism and timing. It also came after he nearly died while recording another block.
The Three-Point Tracker Returns
It’s back! The third edition of the Three-Point Tracker, that is. If you have been following along, we’ve been tracking the Jayhawks’ historic three-point shooting, which, at the moment, includes the highest team three-point shooting percentage (46.3) of the Self era. The number ranks second in the country.
The more interesting number, though, is the Jayhawks’ three-point attempt percentage, which is hovering above 30 percent, which is just the fifth-highest mark of the Self era. For the moment, the Jayhawks are taking threes on 30.6 percent of their field goal attempts. Should Kansas should be taking a few more three-pointers? Here’s a look at the latest numbers.
The Three-Point Tracker: Percentage
The Three-Point Tracker: Attempt percentage
Pct. of FGs from 3
One reason Cheick Diallo hasn’t stayed in the rotation
In the realm of advanced stats, usage rate (or usage percentage) is one of the most simple. It aims to measure how often a player ends a possession, whether by making a shot, missing a shot that isn’t rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover. In general, a team’s leading scorer is always going to have a high usage rate. And sure enough, if you look at Perry Ellis, his usage rate (24.5) makes sense. But here’s what alarming: Ellis’ usage rate isn’t even the highest on the team. That belongs to freshman forward Cheick Diallo, who is using 26.7 percent of possessions while on the floor. To a lesser extent, the same issue can be seen with freshman Carlton Bragg
Diallo and Bragg, of course, have not played major minutes, so the sample size is small. But both players have suffered from turnover issues, inflating their usage rates. Diallo has also shown an itchy trigger finger on short jumpers.
But here, it seems, is the biggest problem: In 86 minutes, Diallo has eight turnovers. In 192 minutes, Jamari Traylor has just 12.
As the season pushes on, Diallo has an opportunity to be a difference-maker on defense and major contributor in the frontcourt. But if he wants his head coach to fully trust him, he’ll likely have to show he can limit the turnovers and blend into the Jayhawks’ offensive system.
A look at Devonte’ Graham’s quiet efficiency
Remember after Michigan State, when there was much consternation over the play of sophomore guard Devonte’ Graham? In 38 minutes against the Spartans, Graham finished one for nine from the floor and zero of four from the three-point line. That came after he was two of six from three in the season opener.
A few days later, when the Jayhawks arrived in Maui, I asked Self about Graham’s play. Self said Graham actually graded out as Kansas’ best guard against Michigan State — the coaching staff liked his defense, execution and energy. A few scoffed at Self’s comments — check the replies on this tweet — but it’s hard to argue with Graham’s numbers since.
In Kansas’ last 12 games, Graham is shooting 48.8 percent (21 of 43) from three and 50.4 percent overall. More impressive: For the season, he has recorded twice as many steals (26) as turnovers (13).
How exclusive is this club? Among players with at least 25 steals, just three players have accomplished this feat so far: Graham, Northern Iowa’s Jeremy Morgan (29 steals, 13 turnovers), and Stephen F. Austin’s Trey Pinkney (26 steals, eight turnovers).