Lawson-led Jayhawks survive New Mexico State 63-60 at Sprint Center

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By Gary Bedore gbedore@kcstar.com

Dedric Lawson missed 5 of 6 first-half shots and scored all of two points, looking like a guy who sorely missed his frontcourt partner — the injured Udoka Azubuike.

“Other than Vermont, it’s as poor as he can play,” Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said after Lawson, a 6-foot-9 junior, went from barely scratching the stat sheet the first half to erupting for 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting the final half in lifting the No. 2-ranked Jayhawks to a 63-60 victory over unranked New Mexico State at the Sprint Center.

“Whatever he did to flip it,” Self added of Lawson who finished with 20 points and 10 boards, “we need to bottle that and get him doing that right from the get-go. He did make some plays late. We don’t win the game obviously unless he makes those plays,” Self added.

Lawson made sure the Jayhawks (8-0) would remain unbeaten entering final-exam week by scoring KU’s final 14 points of the game.

His scoring spree helped KU turn a four-point deficit into a 60-57 lead with 2 minutes, 44 seconds left, a 62-59 lead with 51.7 seconds left and a 63-60 advantage with 14. 1 seconds left. Down by three, New Mexico State’s JoJo Zamora missed a possible game tying three with 4 seconds left.

The shot of the game was a three-pointer Lawson drilled with 3:23 left, the score tied at 57-57. KU, which trailed by as many as seven points in the second half, maintained at least a one-point lead the rest of the contest.

“I guess when you play enough and shoot enough, the law of percentages will prevail,” Self said, quickly adding, “he made some good plays late.”

Lawson entered the game 1 for 11 from on three-pointers on the season. He had missed his only other three of the game — with 7:03 left and KU trailing by four.

“I felt it. I felt I was going to make one,” Lawson said of a bucket from beyond the arc.

“Coach told me before the last game … at practice he said, ‘You are not shooting enough threes. You are not shooting enough.’ That’s all he said,” Lawson added of encouragement from the bench to fire away.

As far as scoring KU’s final 14 points, essentially turning a bad game into a good one, Lawson said: “Basketball is all about getting into rhythm. Once you get into rhythm, you get in the flow of the game.

“Coach ran a play for me out of bounds and got me an easy jump hook, then I got an easy put-back around the rim. The trey ball came a couple plays after. You get confidence seeing the ball go through the net.”

Lawson said the star of the game actually was junior forward Mitch Lightfoot, who stepped up in the absence of Azubuike, who has an ankle injury that figures to keep him out until the start of Big 12 season. Lightfoot scored seven points and grabbed six rebounds in 18 minutes. The 6-8 junior had five points and five boards the second half.

“If not for Mitch we probably lose,” Lawson said. “He took big charges, got stops down the stretch.”

Of Lightfoot, Self said: “I thought Mitch did a couple good things out there. But his man backs him down and scores at will. It’s hard to get too excited about that;. He was probably the best big that played tonight.”

Senior Lagerald Vick did not start for the second straight game.

Vick, a 6-5 guard from Memphis, came off the bench on Tuesday against Wofford after arriving late for shootaround, Self said. On Saturday, Self went with Charlie Moore in place of Vick.

“He had a really bad Thursday. Let’s just leave it at that,” Self said after the game, referring to Vick, who scored five points on 2-of-8 shooting with six rebounds and five assists in 31 minutes against New Mexico State. “Hopefully those days are behind us,” Self added.

Moore scored five points with three steals in 24 minutes.

“He was as good a rebounder as we had tonight,” Self said of Vick, who did start the second half. “Defensively (he did well). He was our leading assist man. He did some good things.”

Freshman guard Devon Dotson scored eight points with four rebounds, two assists and three turnovers in 39 minutes.

“He tweaked his ankle yesterday,” Self said of Dotson. “He was hurting a little bit today. He was very sore … he did some good things. (Still) they shoot a three with 4 seconds left that could have put the game in overtime. They get off a three. We back up (on defense).”


Dotson guarded New Mexico State’s Zamora (15 points) on a three that could have, but didn’t tie the game at the end.

“I just tried to get up a three ball. It didn’t work out,” Zamora said. He said he thought KU would choose to foul him and send him to the line rather than let him hoist a possible OT-inducing three-pointer.

“They didn’t (foul), so I tried to get it to a tie game at least,” Zamora added.

KU, which hit 43.1 percent of its shots (including 7 of 21 from three) to New Mexico State’s 45.5 percent (7 of 26 from three) will next meet Villanova at 11 a.m. Saturday, at Allen Fieldhouse. Self is hoping for immediate improvement.

“I thought they played harder,” Self said of his players. “They are quicker than we are,” Self added of the New Mexico State Aggies, who fell to 7-2. “I thought they played extremely well. They played tough. If you are going to give up 60 points you should win the game, which we were fortunate we did, though we got exposed inside defensively. I thought they were a better team than us tonight. We were very fortunate to win.”

Notes

Kansas improved to 4-0 all-time against New Mexico State. … KU is 8-0 for the first time since the 2010-11 team opened with an 18-0 record. It’s the fifth 8-0 start in Self’s 16 years at KU. … Self is 455-96 at Kansas and 662-201 overall as a head coach. … New Mexico State coach Chris Jans, a former Wichita State assistant, fell to 35-8 overall in two seasons with the Aggies. … KU is 39-9 at the Sprint Center the past 11 years, all games contested in the Self era. The Jayhawks are 22-4 in Big 12 Tournament games, 3-1 in NCAA Tournament games and 14-4 in regular-season contests in the building. KU is 5-1 in the CBE Classic in Sprint Center and now 9-3 in single games played annually in the arena, usually around the holidays.


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