Senior guards Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk had never won in Morgantown, West Virginia, heading into their final year at Kansas. A single-point loss their freshman year, an 11-point defeat their sophomore year, and a 16-point beatdown last year.
The same story line seemed to be ringing true on Monday night too, with the Mountaineers leading by as many as 16 points late in the first half. Even with as little as eight and a half minutes left in the game, Kansas trailed by 10 points, having never really come within touching distance of West Virginia.
But refusing to lie down and accept defeat — something that Kansas looked to have done for the first 10 minutes of the second half – seniors Graham and Mykhailiuk stepped up into their leadership positions and took control.
Mykhailiuk had just turned over the ball twice in the matter of seconds. A travel after passing the ball to himself, followed by a dribble in which the ball simply got away from him and into press row. The senior was having a rough night at the time, having put up just five points despite playing all but three minutes so far.
The following play from West Virginia should have been a simple one. With the ball in his hands from inbounds, James Bolden bounced what should have been a simple pass to Mountaineer star Jevon Carter.
That’s where it all went wrong for Carter, and everything went right for Graham.
Reaching around the side of Carter to intercept the pass, Graham left the West Virginia senior scrambling in his wake. Charging down the field and drawing the and-one off of Carter, it was perhaps the game-defining moment.
Carter found himself on four fouls, whilst Graham’s free throw brought the ball game to within seven.
In a back and forth game that looked to be going to the Mountaineers, the Jayhawks pulled off a comeback Monday night to win for the first time in Morgantown, West Virginia, in four years.
The play brought life into the Jayhawks, as they sensed something special was on the horizon. Carter was in foul trouble, West Virginia forward Sagaba Konate was getting less looks inside, and the Kansas defense was shutting West Virginia down.
While in the first half the defense was good, it was still being dominated at times. It now offered West Virginia little time. No longer could the Mountaineers send off quick shots from the position they caught the ball and make open threes. Every shot was contested.
On the offensive end of the court, Mykhailiuk was finally finding his rhythm, after being picked up following Graham’s massive steal.
Rallying off a pair of two quick three-pointers from Mykhailiuk, Kansas brought the game to within six. A pair of free throws by redshirt sophomore Malik Newman and another three from Graham brought Kansas to within one.
Then the ship finally tipped. A big defensive rebound from Mykhailiuk led to him being fouled and sent to the other end of the court for a pair of free throws in the double-bonus. Sinking both, the Jayhawks grabbed the lead for the first time since the game was 9-8, now at a score of 61-60.
A further four points from Mykhailiuk meant the Ukrainian finished the game with 17 points, with 12 of those coming in the final eight minutes of the game. The Mountaineers tried to come back, but forced long shots from Kansas’ stellar defense kept the Jayhawks on top.
“It showed us just how good we can be when we play together, tough,” Graham said, according to a Kansas Basketball tweet.
“It showed us just how good we can be when we play together, tough.” - Devonte’ Graham on his team’s resilience and chipping away at the 16-point deficit at the half #KUbball pic.twitter.com/IJwSm2SBHp— Kansas Basketball (@KUHoops) January 16, 2018
The win was a huge step in the right direction for Kansas. With both teams tied at the top of the Big 12 before the game with records of 4-1, Morgantown had been a near-guaranteed loss in recent years. That meant Kansas had to rely on other teams to take down West Virginia, as well as beating them in Allen Fieldhouse.
Now, moving to 5-1, Kansas has overcome the Morgantown curse, and has taken sole ownership of the top spot in the Big 12 for the time being. If Kansas can show the fighting spirit it showed on Monday for the rest of the season, the Jayhawks may just pull off the record-breaking 14-straight regular season titles in perhaps the toughest conference in the nation this year.