As Monday night turned to Tuesday morning, Devonte’ Graham stepped out into the darkness and made the short walk from Allen Fieldhouse to his apartment at McCarthy Hall, just a few hundred yards away. A sophomore guard, Graham was exhausted. He had scored 22 points in No. 1 Kansas’ 109-106 victory over No. 2 Oklahoma, a triple-overtime epic that ended after 11 p.m.
But he wasn’t ready to sleep. After taking part in a postgame news conference, signing autographs outside the locker room and showering, Graham returned home around midnight — or maybe a little after — and flipped on the television. The replay from Monday’s game was already in progress.
“I re-watched it — that same night,” Graham said. “It kind of made me have chills all over.”
With KU enjoying winter break — and no practice scheduled for Tuesday — the Jayhawks had nowhere to be the next day. So Graham says he stayed up until close to 6 a.m., savoring the victory and reliving the dramatic moments from all 55 minutes.
It was cool, Graham says. But in some ways, it was healthy, too. After a long night of decompressing and a day off Tuesday, the Jayhawks were ready to turn the page, to move on from a classic. Because as crazy as Monday night was, Kansas still has 16 conference games left, including a two-game road swing at the Big 12’s most faraway outposts.
At 8 p.m. Saturday, Kansas, 13-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big 12, will attempt to protect its No. 1 ranking at Texas Tech, facing a Red Raiders squad that has surpassed expectations and could be poised for a surprise run to the postseason. Three days later, Kansas will head to No. 17 West Virginia and a road venue that has delivered losses for the Jayhawks in the last two seasons. For Kansas, the task is simple: Avoid a letdown after winning the game of the year in college basketball.
“So much of that is not the physical,” Kansas coach Bill Self said this week. “It’s the emotional letdown, going from being so geeked up to being drained. We’ll handle it, but I don’t know if there’s a perfect way to do it.”
Self believes two factors could play into their favor. The Oklahoma matchup fell on Monday, meaning Kansas had a full four days to recover from the grueling night. The open week also meant the Jayhawks were free on Wednesday evening, the same night Texas Tech traveled to No. 13 Iowa State and played close into the final minutes. If there was any chance Kansas would look past Texas Tech, Self stresses that should have changed after a two-hour session of informal scouting.
“Texas Tech probably helped us some,” Self said.
Indeed, this might not be the Texas Tech of recent vintage. The Red Raiders, in their third season under head coach Tubby Smith, were picked to finish last in the preseason Big 12 coaches poll, an afterthought in a league that is, at the moment, ranked as the nation’s top RPI conference. Yet here they are, 11-2 and 1-1, after an opening victory over Texas and loss at Iowa State.
“Tubby will will them to be better and will them to be good,” Self said. “But they’re really a nice team. They’re definitely an NCAA Tournament-potential team.”
In the days after the Oklahoma victory, Self’s phone was stuffed with text messages from coaching friends and acquaintances — perhaps more than most games, he conceded. But by Wednesday’s practice, he was ready to move forward. In some ways, Self said, Jan. 4 was too early to be putting that kind of effort and emotion into a basketball game.
Now comes a two-game road swing for a team that played just one true road game in the nonconference season. It’s too early to be pondering the conference race, of course. But with two games away from Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas can maintain poll position by picking off two road wins in the next four days.
“We just got to focus on winning on the road,” Graham said. “Because home games, we don’t expect to lose those, but we really don’t expect to lose any game. And it’s just going to be tougher on the road.”