University of Kansas

How Devon Dotson lifted KU against Texas — with help from a play that worked before

Jayhawks leave the court after 65-57 win over Texas

The Kansas Jayhawks leave the court after a 65-57 win over the Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 Tournament on Thursday, March 14, 2019.
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The Kansas Jayhawks leave the court after a 65-57 win over the Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 Tournament on Thursday, March 14, 2019.

Devon Dotson laughed while the replay on the iPhone played in front of him.

This was in front of his locker following Kansas’ 65-57 victory over Texas, and Dotson’s second-half Eurostep was even more impressive on second glance.

“That’s pretty cool,” he said with a smile.

The play was desperately needed, too.

KU’s lead sat at just six late in the second half. The Jayhawks hadn’t had a field goal in more than five minutes, and needing a momentum shift, coach Bill Self decided to put things in the hands of his freshman point guard.

He called a play, at that point, which had already worked before.

Let’s rewind quickly back to the first half. With Texas on a 16-6 run, Dotson was given control of the offense, with KU running a set to clear out the left side so he could attack Elijah Mitrou-Long with a drive. The result was a layup and foul.

“He’s a special talent,” teammate Dedric Lawson said. “That’s what he’s been for us — a guy stepping up in a clutch moment.”

Dotson did that later as well.

This is a difficult action to guard for Mitrou-Long, who likely senses something might be coming out of the corner of his eye. Marcus Garrett comes up as if he’s setting a ball screen, then fakes it.

This anticipation of getting hit by a screen makes Mitrou-Long hesitate for just a split-second, and that gives Dotson enough opening to sprint by him on a drive to the right.

“Change of momentum is hard, because you think about how fast (Dotson) is,” teammate Mitch Lightfoot said. “He stops and goes the other way. You think about it ... he’s moving so fast, it’s kind of hard to stop that.”

It’s even more the case when one can finish like Dotson. Lightfoot has seen this move before in practice: speed, hesitation, then the crossover Eurostep to put in the layup.

“I just wanted to get the team going downhill,” Dotson said. “With my quickness and speed, I can really keep the defense off balance and really put pressure on them.”

So much goes into a play like this working. There was good design by the coaching staff, which allowed the team’s speediest player a run at the rim with an advantage over his man. There was scouting report, and knowing that Mitrou-Long only entered as an “average” defender — according to Synergy Sports’ logs — in isolation situations.

There also is a bit of trust, which Dotson has been earning throughout the season. Though this call came from Self, Lightfoot said he’s increasingly seen the coach turn to Dotson to ask about his opinion for what play to run, or what defense might work best.

“He used to do that with Frank (Mason) and Devonté (Graham) all the time,” Lightfoot said. “So that’s just kind of special to see him growing into that role.”

Typically, this freedom is earned with experience. Mason and Graham eventually became reflections of their coach, even if it took a few years to get there.

The process seems to have been sped up in this particular year. Self starts four freshmen and has just two returners who played for him on last year’s roster, so the time for Dotson to take on a greater responsibility is now.

“The kid is young, but he’s so mature when it comes to handling the game,” Lightfoot said. “He’s got his handprint on everything.”

If one is looking for potential reasons KU might play its best basketball over the next few weeks, this is one.

Dotson, who scored a team-high 17 points with four assists, came through in two of the biggest moments on Thursday. He had KU’s only field goal in the final 9:09, and he’s starting to appear comfortable with more upon his shoulders — especially when Self asks for his advice.

“If I see something or feel something, I’ll say it,” Dotson said.

It’s more than Self usually asks of his freshmen.

Dotson, though, seems increasingly ready to embrace this challenge.

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self recapped the Jayhawks' Big 12 Tournament win over Texas on March 14, 2019 and previewed their semifinal game against West Virginia on Friday, March 15, 2019 at the Sprint Center.

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.