Kansas guard Devon Dotson was flat on his back, slithering in the lane, both hands balled into fists.
He screamed out in pain. Three teammates gathered around him, just before he scrunched his face again, which led to another grimace.
For a second time, he howled.
In the 45th minute, his legs had finally given out. Dotson’s right calf was cramping, and after drawing a blocking foul to earn two free throws, the KU point guard struggled to get to his feet.
This was right in front of the Jayhawks’ bench — during the final seconds of overtime — and KU coach Bill Self leaned in to share some words.
“He said, ‘You got it. Knock them down,’” Dotson said.
In other words, Dotson was not coming out. No way, no how.
“He had to get up,” Self said. “There was no choice.”
There were many memorable moments for KU in its 82-77 overtime victory over TCU on Monday night. There was impressive play in building a 12-point second-half lead, then also frustration as the Jayhawks threatened to give it all back in the final minutes.
The most notable sequence, though, was here: Dotson stepping to the free-throw line then backing off again, leaning down to grab his right calf again another time in agony.
“It was locking up,” Dotson said.
The circumstances were dire. Thanks to roster attrition, KU entered the game with only eight scholarship players. Three of them — Dedric Lawson, Mitch Lightfoot and Quentin Grimes — had already fouled out.
Self silently went through options in his mind. Would a timeout help Dotson get through this? And if he did come out, which walk-on would he trust most with his team’s Big 12 conference hopes on the line?
Dotson told the coach he didn’t need a breather.
“I just wanted to get the win,” Dotson said. “Just locking in, and taking it one at a time.”
Dotson went through his routine, making the first free throw to put KU up two. He followed with the second, then went 4-for-4 after that to help the Jayhawks seal the win.
“He’s really tough. Like really tough,” teammate Ochai Agbaji said. “One of the toughest guys on the court.”
KU needed this — desperately. With literally no other rotation player to turn to late, Dotson steadied the Jayhawks just in time, going for 25 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists with 6 turnovers in his 45 minutes.
“He was pretty special tonight,” Self said.
Another key play came at the end of regulation. With KU trailing by two with less than 30 seconds left, Dotson astutely noticed that Dedric Lawson was getting double-teamed in the lane. Someone else had to be open.
That ended up being Dedric’s brother. Dotson skipped an accurate pass to K.J. Lawson, who was able to attack a bad closeout to put in a short floater to tie it.
“Devon made the good basketball play,” K.J. said. “That’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s our point guard, and he’s learning on the fly.”
Suddenly things don’t look so bleak for KU when it comes to the conference race. The Jayhawks are two down in the loss column to Kansas State, but the Wildcats will be underdogs at Texas on Tuesday and also have to make a return trip to Allen Fieldhouse.
If KU had lost, though, it would have been crushing. Self admitted that afterward, saying that a loss Monday to TCU — the Jayhawks would have dropped to 7-5 with a defeat — “may have been too much” to overcome.
As Agbaji answered questions at a press conference table after Monday’s win, Dotson sipped from a yellow Gatorade and stared off in the distance. He’d earned this moment to take a rest — and also rehydrate for the stretch run after his body started to give out in the final minute.
“I was kind of scared, but I knew he’s cramped early in the season before,” Agbaji said. “So I knew he’s played through it. I give him that. I think he’s going to be fine.”
Agbaji wasn’t the most concerned one, though. Walk-on Chris Teahan started to stretch, mentally preparing himself in case Dotson was not able to get up from his cramping issue.
“He was on the bench a little bit worried,” Agbaji said with a smile.
They laughed about this afterward in the locker room. KU won and Teahan could breathe easy.
The reason for that? Dotson had stayed in, gutting it out to finish what he started.
He had to.