Landen Lucas embraced teammate Dwight Coleby after he entered the locker room following Kansas’ 90-70 victory over Michigan State on Sunday night.
“He just told me, ‘You saved my career,’” Coleby said. “‘I’m happy and proud of you.’”
Coleby, who didn’t play in eight of KU’s 18 regular-season conference games, emerged at the perfect time for KU with nine critical second-half minutes when Lucas had to sit with foul trouble.
“He came in and made some of the biggest plays,” Lucas said. “I thank him so much for that.”
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Coleby also received appreciation from Lucas on the sidelines in the form of bear hugs. Afterward, KU coach Bill Self found the forward to say he was proud of him, especially because he’d persevered following his recovery from a torn ACL last season.
“He deserves that because it’s been a rough go for him,” Self said. “His attitude’s is so good. He’s such a great kid. To see him respond like that … I just know our kids are so happy for him.”
One of Coleby’s biggest plays came with 4 minutes, 58 seconds left when he muscled past Michigan State’s Nick Ward to squeeze an offensive rebound on a three-point miss by Josh Jackson. A few passes later, Devonté Graham hit a three from the corner as KU continued its game-deciding run.
“We told him he was the MVP of the game,” Graham said of Coleby.
A few days earlier, Graham was asked by a radio station if he believed there was someone unheralded on KU’s bench that might emerge during the season’s most important stretch. He picked Coleby.
“He actually did it this game,” Graham said. “He was huge getting those rebounds and on the defensive end, walling up and getting stops and rebounding on the defensive end. He played his butt off.”
Self was impressed with Coleby on both ends.
“I thought he was as valuable as anybody we had today,” Self said. “I thought he was great. It wasn’t just post defense. He got a couple steals; his ball-screen defense was good.”
It all made for more comfortable viewing for Lucas on the sidelines, as he knew with foul trouble that he had little control on the outcome. Those thoughts quickly faded as KU extended its lead with Coleby in.
“To see somebody who came in with not a lot of opportunities throughout the year and play well definitely saved me from going home sad,” Lucas said. “He contributed to it. I think everybody made some big plays, but he was definitely a key player. “
Coleby was asked in the locker room if he truly believed he had saved his buddy’s career. He shrugged.
“If he said I did,” Coleby said with a wide grin, “then I guess so.”