Written by: Joe Ryan
Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Kelly Oubre, Wayne Selden, Josh Jackson, Frank Mason all have one thing in common — never winning at West Virginia.
Devonte Graham was about 8 minutes away from joining that list, but in an 8-minute stretch, an underdog became a legend.
For the past 4 years, Kansas fans would get the schedule for the upcoming year, hoping this is the year they return to the Final Four. But, when they look at that schedule, they always circle the game at Morgantown and realize, “You know what, we’re cursed at that place, we’re not gonna win there.” At least I do that. And, that’s not me being a bad fan or a pessimistic. No, that’s just me being a realist. I understand that West Virginia is an experienced team, that is lead by a future Hall of Famer in Bob Huggins, and the stadium rocks every time Kansas walks into that building. It is just a damn tough place to play.
So, if Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Kelly Oubre, Wayne Selden, Josh Jackson, Frank Mason couldn’t win in this building and against, basically the same West Virginia team because no one on WVU leaves early, what makes you think that this Kansas team could win there? A Kansas team that has lost 3 home games already, struggled most of the year, without finding a true identity.
But, I’m pretty sure that all changed last night. And the reason why it changed?
Once an unheralded Point Guard from Raleigh, North Carolina, originally committed to play at Appalachian State, turned himself into a Kansas legend the night the Jayhawks walked into Morgantown on January 15th, 2018.
Kansas trailed the entire game. Nothing was working for them. The West Virginia press was killing Kansas, they couldn’t get their offense set, and at one point during the game they had 9 turnovers to only 9 field goals made. Jevon Carter was controlling the game for West Virginia, Sagaba Konate was blocking everything in his sight, recording 5 blocks in the first half, including 3 blocked dunks.
The West Virginia lead grew to 16 and Kansas looked dead in the water. They were trying hard, really hard, you can tell the effort was there, but for the first time in a long time, it just seemed as if West Virginia finally had more talent than Kansas did.
I was texting my brother throughout the entire game. As a die-hard Kansas fan, I was pretty upset as how the game was going. I was just telling Mike (@mikey_ryan11 on twitter) that this game is over, there is no way they can comeback. They’ll drop to 4-2 in conference and West Virginia will be a alone at first place. But just with about 10 minutes left to go, Mike saw a change in the game. He saw Kansas starting to settle in on defense and getting stops. I wasn’t too concerned because Kansas was still down double digits, it was over to me. But, Mike just kept texting me saying “here they come, here they come.” Now, I’m not saying that Mike knew exactly what was happening, but I told him specifically that there needed to be more leaders. With 10 minutes to go in the second half, Kansas down double digits, Mike texted back “you’re going to find one at the end of the game.”
And then the gallop towards the finish line happened. Devonte Graham became that leader. Even though he lead this team all year, last night it was in full display.
With just over 8 minutes left in the game, Kansas kept chipping away. They were starting to find their footing, and then something big happened. Svi Mykhailiuk came up with a steal, but had nowhere to pass the ball, passed to himself, dribbled and then the whistle blew and that is a turnover.
His long time best friend, who has been with him for 4 year now, Devonte Graham got right in his face and had no problem letting him know that the mistake was costly and not smart.
That’s what a leader is all about. That is what it takes to be a bulldog. Not being afraid to get in your brothers face and let him know, that if they’re going to win this game, they need to be 1000% mentally focused for the last 8:14.
Svi got the message.
And then Devonte changed the game.
The next offensive possession for West Virginia, Devonte Graham won the game for Kansas. And that might be hard to believe with 8 minutes to go and down 10, but this one play won the game for Kansas.
Devonte stole the ball, sprinted his way towards the goal, got the and-one, got the WVU lead to only 7 and along the way he forced Jevon Carter to pick up his 4th foul. And then you see as Devonte goes back to the bench, yelling and screaming, sending the message “follow me to this win.”
And then the West Virginia lead grew smaller and smaller, and then Devonte hit a corner three to pull the game within 1.
But, it was already over, Kansas already won the game. The West Virginia teams body language was piss poor, they were heaving up threes to try to tie the game instead of getting to the basket. Kansas was oozing in confidence and swagger and that was all lead by Devonte Graham.
And to finish it off, Devonte Graham made a sweet, no look fake pass, got around the best defender in the country, Jevon Carter, and finished at the rim.
Once again, acknowledging his team after the play.
Devonte Graham finished the game with 16 points, six assists, three rebounds and two steals, after only scoring four points in the first half. Devonte Graham played every minute of that game
If, Devonte Graham were to leave for the NBA last year, and he definitely could have, I’m not sure if this Kansas team makes the NCAA tournament.
This Kansas team will go as far as Devonte Graham will take them, and after this game, it sure seems as if Devonte is going to try and carry this team as far as possible.
In my book, Devonte Graham just made himself into a Kansas legend. And the people agree with me.
But, there is still work to be done. And that’s winning the BIG 12 for the 14th consecutive year.
Kansas, now, has the leader to get that done.