Mitch Lightfoot on his big role in beating K-State
There’s no need for Kansas to cancel its order for “15 straight” Big 12 title T-shirts and hats.
Not yet anyway.
Inspired by a stellar performance by junior forward Mitch Lightfoot (nine points, six rebounds and three blocks), the Jayhawks remained in contention for a 15th consecutive Big 12 regular-season men’s basketball championship by upending Kansas State 64-49 on Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
In extending their home winning streak over rival K-State to 13 games, the No. 15-ranked Jayhawks (21-7, 10-5) trail league-leading No. 16 K-State (21-7, 11-4) by one game with three to play. Texas Tech is a game ahead of third-place KU in the loss column at 10-4, while Baylor is 9-5 entering the final two weeks of the season.
“There’s a lot to play for, for a lot of reasons,” KU coach Bill Self said after the game. “One is for our team to be better, for a better seeding (in NCAAs), for pride.”
Also … “We’re still in the game,” Self added of the league chase. “Obviously we can’t afford another loss. There’s no margin for error. We have to have somebody beat K-State and Tech to have a chance. But this league is tough. Anything can happen.”
As KU found out Saturday in losing by 29 points at Tech.
“We are capable of playing a heck of a lot better than we have on the road. We will have to, to put us in contention,” said Self. The Jayhawks, who are undefeated at home this season and 2-7 on the road, travel to Oklahoma State on Saturday and Oklahoma on Tuesday then close the regular season against Baylor at home a week from Saturday.
“Tech has to go to Ames and TCU. K-State has to go to TCU. Jamie Dixon and the Horned Frogs are my second-favorite team in the league without question,” Self added, smiling.
On Monday, the 6-foot-8 Lightfoot scored eight points in the first half in helping KU to a 34-27 lead at the break. He finished 3 of 5 from the field as KU improved to 29-0 under coach Bill Self in ESPN Big Monday games played at Allen Fieldhouse. KU stretched its overall home winning streak on Big Monday to 33 games.
“K-State is a big rivalry. This means lot to us. It means a lot to a lot of people,” Lightfoot said. “I was feeling it,” he added, smiling. “At the same time I’m just trying to do what my teammates need me to do. We all took the challenge (after blowout loss Saturday). Allen Fieldhouse is a hard place (for opponent) to play. We all believe in that. Coming in there we’ll always play our hardest.”
Lightfoot, who was a force inside along with forward Dedric Lawson, who scored 18 points and grabbed 14 boards, helped hold senior Dean Wade to eight points on 2-for-7 shooting with just five boards in 25 minutes.
“We needed to get a win,” Lightfoot said. “Texas Tech was a very humbling game. We bounced back well.”
Lightfoot had eight points while playing 15 minutes the first half. On offense, he sped by Wade for a layup in which he was fouled (missing the free throw). Lightfoot also nailed a three-pointer and hit a second inside shot. On defense, Lightfoot took a charge from Makol Mawien. He also had a fierce rejection of a Barry Brown shot.
“What Mitch did was the highlight of his young — not exactly young now, I guess he’s a veteran — of his career,” Self said. “I was happy to see our guys have success after we got embarrassed on Saturday.”
Devon Dotson contributed 16 points and Quentin Grimes 12 for KU, which avenged a 74-67 loss to K-State on Feb. 5 in Manhattan. Dotson held Brown to four points on 1 of 8 shooting in 35 minutes.
“Mitch and Devon … wow,” Self said. “Devon guards Barry Brown I’d say 80 percent of the time. He did a great job. He (Dotson) was 1 of 6 the first half (4 of 6 the second). He played well, didn’t shoot it, was out of it. He (Dotson) even admitted he was pressing a bit. We told him to relax and go play. He didn’t play with a smile the first half. He was so intense. He wanted to win so badly. He loosened up the second half, made some plays going downhill.
“K-State is really good defensively. Our guys showed some pride (after Saturday), made some plays, really executed the second half.”
Brown’s dunk no factor
Dotson was asked if he and his teammates were extra fired up playing K-State because of what happened at the end of the first meeting in Manhattan. Brown raced in for a slam dunk, completing the slam just after the final buzzer. Brown after that game gave a “shoutout” to former KU guard Brannen Greene, saying he remembered Greene throwing down a dunk at the final horn in a KU blowout win at Allen Fieldhouse during Brown’s freshman season.
“I know him a little bit, working camps. Oh no, I didn’t bring it up to him,” Dotson said of Brown. “I know the last game, that really turned us up a little bit. We just wanted to make a statement here.”
Self said Brown’s dunk was not used for pregame motivation.
“I swear that has not even been brought up, discussed or our players even talk about that,” Self said. “Turnabout (for Greene’s dunk) is fair play. That didn’t have anything to do with motivation at all.”
Walk-on to miss six weeks
KU freshman walk-on guard E.J. Elliott recently had surgery to repair a meniscus injury. He will return to action in six weeks.
The Jayhawks will next meet Oklahoma State at 11 a.m. Saturday in Stillwater, Okla. Kansas State will play host to Baylor at 7 p.m. Saturday. … Precious Achiuwa, a 6-9 senior forward from Montverde (Fla.) Academy, attended the game as part of his official recruiting visit to KU. He sat behind the Jayhawks bench. Achiuwa, the No. 16-ranked player in the recruiting Class of 2019 according to Rivals.com, has a list of KU, UConn, Memphis, Georgia, Western Kentucky, St. John’s, Florida State and UCLA. He’s already taken unofficial visits to Memphis, UConn, Western Kentucky and St. John’s. He will visit North Carolina for the UNC-Duke game on March 9. … KU football coach Les Miles was handed a microphone and spoke to the early-arriving students about an hour and 45 minutes before the game.