The chants started slowly, echoing out from the front rows of the Allen Fieldhouse student section in the final minutes of the second half. Moments later, it began to pick up — more audible, more clear.
The Kansas Jayhawks were still on the floor, finishing off an 81-72 victory over TCU on Saturday afternoon. In the middle of the action, junior forward Perry Ellis was presumably still wiping a sly smile off his face after awakening the old barn with a thunderous stretch in the waning minutes.
“The fieldhouse went crazy,” Kansas forward Jamari Traylor said.
Just moments earlier, Ellis had skied into orbit in transition and finished a one-handed dunk in transition off a lob pass from Frank Mason. There was a defender underneath him, and a foul would be called, but Ellis did not care. It was clear, even in the crazy blur of a fast break, that the play was the most athletic moment of Ellis’ three years at Kansas. The Jayhawks’ normally quiet workhorse had provided the highlight of the afternoon in a workmanlike victory over a conference bottom feeder.
“That was one of the better dunks I’ve had,” Ellis said, in his usual understated style.
A few seconds later, after a timeout, Ellis stepped to the free-throw line to complete the three-point play, soaking in a standing ovation. Yes, five days can make all the difference in the world.
After all, it was just on Monday night, on the road at West Virginia, that Ellis had clanked a potential game-winning layup off the iron in the final seconds. On that night inside the WVU Coliseum, Ellis sat on the baseline and slumped his shoulders as the West Virginia student section rushed the floor.
On Saturday, Ellis jumped off the mat and responded, finishing with 23 points as the eighth-ranked Jayhawks moved to 22-5 overall and 11-3 in the Big 12 Conference.
“It definitely was a long couple days,” Ellis said.
In the days after the West Virginia loss, Ellis confided in his family and his friends. He watched the video of his miss at least once, to figure out what had gone wrong. And he also had the support of Kansas coach Bill Self, who reminded him on Saturday that even Michael Jordan missed some game-winning shots. By Saturday, though, Ellis was ready to put the moment behind him, to step back on the floor and get back to scoring baskets.
“I had a chance to make it, but I didn’t, unfortunately,” said Ellis, who finished nine of 10 from the floor on Saturday. “But everybody kept me up — family, coaches, everybody. They just told me to stay positive.”
When Ellis threw down back-to-back dunks with more than 6minutes left, the Jayhawks had stretched the lead to 66-50. The Horned Frogs wouldn’t fade away, but it was a large enough lead for Self to insert in senior manager Chris Huey, who received an opportunity to suit up after spending the season as the fifth member of KU scout team.
For TCU, which dropped to 16-11 overall and 3-11 in the Big 12, Ellis was just too much to handle.
“He’s going to play for money one day,” TCU coach Trent Johnson said.
In some ways, redemption was the theme of the afternoon. Freshman guard Devonte’ Graham added a career-high 20 points, just days after admitting that his recent play had been “pretty bad.” Graham, who scored just 15 points in the Jayhawks’ last seven games, was a perfect seven of seven from the floor.
“It was all about minds-et for me today,” Graham said. “I just tried to get in the paint and make plays for my teammates. I was more aggressive than I have been.”
It was a message that Self would like his whole team to internalize during the final weeks of the Big 12 season. After Saturday’s victory, the Jayhawks hold a one-game lead over second-place Iowa State, 10-4, with four conference games remaining. For Kansas, the stretch begins at 8 p.m. Monday at Kansas State.
It’s an opportunity to face an in-state rival, Self says, but the Jayhawks can afford to take in the big-picture as well.
“The last two weeks, you obviously think about the league race, too,” Self said. “There’s plenty of motivation.”
First, though, Kansas had to handle its business on Saturday. Graham had to get back to his old ways. Ellis had to bury a tough loss. After a plodding 30 minutes of basketball, Allen Fieldhouse needed just one spark to explode.
“The fieldhouse is great,” Ellis said. “It got so loud.”