LAWRENCE — Devon Dotson didn’t exactly shout out Brannen Greene, but the Kansas basketball freshman point guard also didn’t deny he entered Monday night’s high-stakes game against rival Kansas State with a little extra motivation.
Dotson shined on the defensive end in the No. 14-ranked Jayhawks’ 64-49 victory, an outcome that helped bring KU within one game of the Big 12 lead with three contests remaining. In the process, the first-year player put a significant dent in the conference player of the year campaign of K-State senior guard Barry Brown, who finished with four points on just 1-for-8 shooting in 35 ineffective minutes.
While staying afloat in the league race was clearly the first, second and third motivating factor in his starring performance, Dotson didn’t shy away from acknowledging his satisfaction after shutting down Brown, signaling there were other elements at play in his stout defensive showing.
“I mean I noticed it last game and that really, you know, well, it turned us up a little bit,” said Dotson, responding to a question about Brown’s after-the-buzzer dunk in the Wildcats’ 74-67 victory over the Jayhawks on Feb. 5 in Manhattan. “So we wanted to make a statement here.”
Dotson scored 16 points and dished three assists in the must-have victory, guiding a KU (21-7, 10-5 Big 12) offense that did just enough against the Wildcats’ top-ranked scoring defense, which is surrendering only 60.5 points per game in league play. More impressive was Dotson’s heady effort guarding Brown, who entered Monday averaging 15.7 points but was held scoreless in 18 second-half minutes.
KU coach Bill Self estimated Dotson spent 80 percent of the game guarding Brown, using the word “wow” to describe the former five-star recruit’s performance.
“We told him to relax and go play. He didn’t play with a smile the whole first half. He was so intense and wanted to win,” Self said in his postgame radio interview. “He loosened up a little bit the second half, saw the ball go in the hole. He made some good plays getting downhill. ...
“That little guy out front, he is a competitive dude.”
Dotson said he learned in a Sunday film review session that he’d have primary duties covering Brown, who scored a game-high 18 points in the first meeting at Bramlage Coliseum. He credited a “team effort” in keeping K-State’s guards out of the paint, though he had his own particular strategy when it came to his minutes on Brown.
“I just really wanted to stay in front, put pressure on him and not let him get comfortable, because when he gets comfortable, he can be dangerous,” Dotson said. “I was just trying to keep him out of getting in a rhythm.”
Despite the down-to-the-wire league race and the emotions evident from the tipoff of both games, Dotson said there wasn't much trash talk between the two teams. He met Brown and fellow Wildcat senior guard Kamau Stokes while working summer camps and said the group “bonded” during that experience.
Make no mistake, though: On the heels of last Saturday’s dreadful 91-62 defeat at Texas Tech, this was a moment Dotson and his teammates were desperate to secure.
“Both games were really huge for us. We approached both games pretty much the same way,” Dotson said of the 48-hour two-step. “Saturday just slipped away from us. It really just wasn’t our night. They were on fire. So Monday, we just wanted to bounce back. We’re at home; protect home court against K-State. We did that and got the job done.”
A loss would’ve dropped the Jayhawks three games back of the Wildcats (21-7, 11-4) with three games left, virtually ending the program’s hopes of securing at least a share of a national record-extending 15th straight regular season conference championship.
League aspirations, and notably not Brown’s post-buzzer dunk from Round 1, served as the only fuel the Jayhawks needed in the Sunflower Showdown rematch, Self asserted.
“I swear that has not even been brought up, discussed or our players even talked about that,” Self said of Brown’s dunk. “You know, turnabout is fair play. So I don’t even read into that at all. So no, that didn’t have anything to do with motivation at all.”
Regardless of whether Brown’s dunk was considered by Dotson or anyone else on the court Monday, there’s no doubt what will be at the forefront of their minds moving forward.
“We have to (win the league). We want to protect it. We want to win conference every single year,” Dotson said. “We know we’ve won 14 straight. (Past players) don’t put pressure on us because that would just add to it and just make us be uptight. They just say, ‘Play your game and everything should be all right.’ ”