Dedric Lawson’s buzzer-beating shot from the corner sailed off target, sending Friday night’s early-season showdown between No. 2 Kansas and No. 5 Tennessee into overtime.
“Man, that’s a play we work on a lot. I was trying to get my shot as soon as possible. I just missed,” Lawson, KU’s 6-foot-9 junior forward said.
Not to worry … Lawson, who had accepted an inbounds pass from Devon Dotson, who took out the ball from under the goal with 2 seconds left in regulation, didn’t brood after failing to break a 69-69 tie.
He opened overtime with a tip-in and scored eight of KU’s 18 extra-session points in the Jayhawks’ 87-81 victory over the Volunteers in the finals of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center.
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“In overtime I wanted to be aggressive,” said Lawson, who scored seven points (his brother K.J. had three) in a 13-6 run that gave KU an 82-75 advantage with 1:23 left in OT.
“I knew the score was 0-0. It was a new game. I really wanted to win very badly. I was going to do everything I could to seal the deal,” Dedric added.
KU coach Bill Self, who thought Dedric Lawson was “terrific” in OT, nonetheless would have preferred KU win it in regulation over the Vols (4-1).
“Lagerald (Vick, 15 points, four assists in 43 minutes) was wide open. Devon was scared to throw it,” Self said with a smile, referring to a possible inbounds pass right under the basket for an easy game-winning layup or dunk. “I said, ‘We’ll run it this way and if it’s not open, Dedric will take the shot. Make sure to get it to Dedric.’ He got it to Dedric. Lagerald was open for an easy lay-in. We’ve got to improve on that,” Self added, well aware Dotson is a mere freshman — a young first-year collegiate player who by the way, had a big game with 17 points, four rebounds and two assists in 40 minutes.
Dotson sheepishly said of the final play of regulation: “I mean it was a hard angle (from under the goal to Vick). I had a 6-8 dude on me (guarding the inbound pass). I couldn’t see the basket. It was causing havoc under the rim. I was going with Dedric (in the corner). He didn’t make the shot, but it went to overtime.”
And that’s where KU rolled despite Udoka Azubuike (nine points, four rebounds, 17 minutes) being unavailable after fouling out with 4:26 left in regulation. Coincidentally, national player of the year candidate Grant Williams of Tennessee (18 points, eight rebounds, six assists, five turnovers, 34 minutes) fouled out with 1:24 left in regulation.
Also, KU was without sophomore guard Marcus Garrett, who missed the game because of concussion-like symptoms he incurred late in Wednesday’s NIT semifinal win over Marquette. Self said Garrett would be fine, but no way Garrett could go in the finale after not being cleared by medical personnel.
Dedric Lawson, who was named MVP of the tournament (Vick made the all-tourney team), not only starred in the game with 24 points and 13 boards and five assists, but entertained the East Coast media in the interview room.
Asked what he thought of New York, he said: “I love New York. People are rude here, though. We were walking yesterday (and) somebody had a door slam in my face. And it’s real cold. Other than that, it’s a pretty cool place. They’ve got nice restaurants, a lot of Vegan spots. K.J. is a Vegan. I think he loves it here. It’s a neat feeling being in a tough game, playing with K.J. (Dedric’s sophomore brother). It’s something you dream of growing up, playing with your brother.”
K.J. Lawson said he knew he’d garner significant minutes when he was told Garrett would be unable to play. K.J. finished with eight points and six boards in 19 minutes, playing in the OT over freshman Quentin Grimes, who had an off night with five points and four boards in 21 minutes.
“I always stay ready since day one. You’ve got to be ready whenever your name is called,” K.J. Lawson said. “It was a toughness game. I like games like these where everybody’s going to compete. Guys will not back down. Guys are not shooting threes (KU hit 5 of 17; Tennessee 7 of 27), they are trying to force it down your throat. It’s great to go against guys who will not back down. They have a great team. I’m happy to get the W,” K.J. added.
Azubuike who picked up two fouls in eight minutes, played the first half and after committing a pair of offensive fouls, had four fouls just 3 1/2 minutes into the final half. He ultimately fouled out with 4:26 left in a tie game.
Admiral Schofield had 21 points and Jordan Bone 16 for Tennessee. KU now has won 13 consecutive regular-season games against top-ten teams.
“We played make a makeshift lineup tonight,” Self said. “We didn’t play particularly well offensively (hitting 50 percent from the field and committing 16 turnovers; Tennessee hit 41.3 percent and had 14 turnovers). We had a couple starters struggle. We found a way to hang in there. Charlie (Moore, nine points, two assists 32 minutes) and K.J. were good off the bench. It was not artistic. We need to learn how to win that way. This team has never done that. We were able to do that tonight.”
KU trailed by as many as nine points in the second half (47-38 at 14:44) and trailed by six points (54-48) when Azubuike returned from a stay on the bench to play with four fouls at 10:11.
Azubuike hit 1 of 2 free throws and Vick cashed a three as KU turned a 56-51 deficit into a tie game with 7:20 to play. Vick bombed in another three to give KU a 59-56 lead at 6:30. And he hit a deep two to make it 61-56 at 5:49.
However, Tennessee’s Williams scored five straight, and just like that it was 61-61 at 4:39. Williams cashed 1 of 2 free throws and Tennessee led, 62-61, at 4:26. Tennessee led 64-61, but had the lead erased by four straight points by Dedric Lawson.
Tennessee led 69-67 following a three by Schofield with two minutes left, but Moore tied it by hitting two free throws at 1:24.
The Jayhawks had a final possession with 19 seconds left. However, K.J. Lawson threw the ball inside, the ball kicking out of bounds off a Volunteer with 2 ticks left. That led to the final miss from the corner by Dedric Lawson.
Dedric Lawson scored eight points on 3-of-3 shooting (he was 2 of 4 from the line) and had five rebounds in OT, while Dotson scored five points and K.J. Lawson three in the extra session. Schofield scored nine of Tennessee’s 12 OT points.
KU will next meet Stanford at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 1 at Allen Fieldhouse.
That will be the first game of a five-game homestand. KU will play Wofford on Dec. 4 at Allen and New Mexico State on Dec. 8 at the Sprint Center. Then it’s back to Allen for games against Villanova on Dec. 15 and South Dakota on Dec. 18. KU’s next road trip will be a game at Arizona State on Dec. 22.
The Jayhawks were to remain in New York on Saturday to do some sightseeing, then return to Lawrence on Sunday.