TULSA, Okla. — A similar amount of emotion earned Lagerald Vick a technical, but Landen Lucas wasn’t about to contain himself.
Saddled to the bench with four fouls, the fifth-year senior had just seen Dwight Coleby, his replacement, come up with a huge steal that led to a bucket in transition and forced a Michigan State timeout.
Lucas ran off the bench with a big smile on his face, emphatically nodding and barking “good job” over and over as he greeted him at center court. By the end of the stoppage, Lucas had delivered one more statement to the Bahamian big man, who came up big down the stretch for top-seeded Kansas in the 90-70 win on Sunday night at BOK Center.
“He just told me I saved his career,” Coleby said. “I guess it was a good moment for him.”
For Lucas, yes. For the Jayhawks, even more.
Lucas’ fourth foul was like his others. It was iffy — probably enough to warrant a call but certainly far from egregious — and left the forward a bit frustrated.
Fortunately for the Jayhawks, though, Coleby was more than ready to leap into the action. Actually, in the literal sense, he already had.
“When he picked up that foul,” Coleby said, “I had already jumped up.”
And when it was his turn, Coleby didn’t just fill in for Lucas. He thrived.
He had the aforementioned steal to set up a fast break, a huge play, and outdid himself on the very next possession.
With less than five minutes to play and KU already up 10, Coleby camped in the lane as Josh Jackson misfired on would’ve been a huge knockout punch. Instead, the dagger came on the glass, as Coleby leapt up and snagged the ball.
After the game, he still remembered what he was thinking at the time — “pass it out and let’s run some clock” — He probably couldn’t have thought up a better ending to it, though, as Devonte’ Graham rose up and buried a 3 to put KU up 13, with Lucas cheering from the stands.
“I was watching it as a fan with you guys,” Lucas said.
Funny enough, it may have also been that sideline perspective that helped Coleby be so effective in the first place.
Coleby remained on the bench for the entirety of the first period, studying intently as Lucas dominated on the interior. Lucas scored just four points in the first half but added nine rebounds and a strong defensive effort, on one possession sprinting from the paint out to the perimeter and back and forth some five more times in the ensuing 20 seconds.
Oh, and to top it all off, he ended that possession by securing the rebound.
“I just learn as the game goes on,” said Coleby, who had three points and four rebounds in nine minutes. “I saw the way he was defending and I had to try to do the same thing he was doing.”
At least everyone could tell he was paying attention.
Self raved about Coleby’s performance after the game, calling him “great” three times within the same answer. Graham followed suit, calling him the “M-V-P of the game” and praising his ball screen defense.
As for Lucas’ career-saving comment, there was a little more to the story.
Lucas was genuine in his words to Coleby and even dove into the cause for that sentiment after the game.
“It’s tough being a senior and knowing that it’s win or go home and that it’s my last chance maybe wearing a uniform,” he said. “When I pick up fouls and I’m on the bench, I can’t help and can’t do anything to it.”
Coleby, though, was a little more sheepish about that praise — or perhaps it was coy.
The big man was mobbed by his teammates after the game, a scene he was asked to explain shortly.
“I know the seniors loved it,” he started. “Landen said I saved his career.”
This is where the real Dwight Coleby started to emerge — his refreshing honesty entertained with a sly sense of humor.
Everyone in the stadium knew how well Coleby played. Self and Graham knew it. Lucas knew it. Even Michigan State coach Tom Izzo praised him after the game, saying the team deserved credit for how he filled in off the bench.
In a similar sense, Coleby knew he was good. And if he couldn’t tell, the scrum of media surrounding his locker was probably a pretty good indicator.
So with a wry smile on his face, Coleby finished his statement, describing his own play with a huge understatement.
“So,” he said. “I guess I did a good job.”