LINCOLN, Neb. — Devonte’ Graham knew. Despite all the evidence to the contrary to that point in Saturday night’s game against Nebraska, the Kansas senior guard just knew.
The No. 13-ranked Jayhawks trailed by two with 21 seconds left when the ball left the hands of teammate Svi Mykhailiuk, who to that point was 5-for-15 shooting with just one 3-pointer in six tries. With Pinnacle Bank Arena swaying — well, as much as a 4-year-old facility can sway — there was only one word racing through Graham’s mind after he delivered the dish to the wide-open Mykhailiuk.
“Cash,” Graham recalled later with a grin.
Mykhailiuk drained the go-ahead trey, center Udoka Azubuike blocked, recovered and kicked ahead the would-be game-winning shot attempt on the other end and KU escaped with a 73-72 victory over the Cornhuskers.
“I think Svi is a senior and I think he’s poised and all those things, but that’s what he’s supposed to do,” KU coach Bill Self said. “He and Malik (Newman) are supposed to be able to shoot the ball in the basket. That’s as big a job as they have for us. But that was great to see. You don’t have to make shots to play well, but in this particular situation, he had to make a shot for us to win, and he did it.
“It was great to see the ball go in the basket for him.”
When Self drew up the eventual go-ahead play in the huddle, Mykhailiuk said he was hoping it would go in. Those hopes turned to something else just moments later when the shot left his hands.
“Man, I was praying it was going to go in,” Mykhailiuk said. “It was a great execution of the play we wrote and I’m thankful for my coach and teammates’ trust in me when I’m open, even when I didn’t make shots the whole game.”
Graham, one of Mykhailiuk’s best friends and a fellow senior, indicated the Ukraine native’s 16th and final attempt had a different look from his previous 15.
“It had to go in,” Graham said. “He couldn’t hit one all day, so I could just tell. I’ve been around him a long time, seen him shoot a lot of shots. I could just see when he released it that it was going in.”
Azubuike, who finished with a career-high 26 points on 13-for-17 shooting with 10 rebounds, struggled to protect the rim throughout the evening but came up with his first block of the game on James Palmer’s mid-range jumper with less than 10 seconds left.
“Doke played great,” Self said. “That was the best game Doke’s played since he’s been here. He was active, he rebounded the ball pretty well on both ends and then the play he made at the end there late was terrific. And to have the wherewithal to throw it to the other end (to Lagerald Vick) was smart too, because I’m sure they were yelling, ‘Foul him.’ ”
Graham scored 18 points on 5-for-11 shooting for the Jayhawks (8-2), who avoided what would’ve been their first three-game losing streak since the 2012-13 season. Palmer had 14 points for the Huskers (7-5).
“We just needed this win, period,” Graham said. “Especially after last week. It’s a great win for us, get that monkey off our back. Doke was the MVP of the game. He played amazing. Everybody just tried to chip in and do enough to help the team win.”
After an opening period that saw Graham and Azubuike together go 11-for-17 shooting but their teammates combine for only three first-half makes en route to a three-point KU lead, the two teams traded blows in the second half until Mykhailiuk’s first trey of the evening gave the Jayhawks a 60-57 advantage. It also kick-started a 9-2 run that gave KU some breathing room, with a Mykhailiuk layup finishing the stretch, but the sense of relief wouldn’t last for long.
Nebraska clawed back, making the deficit 66-63 with 3:42 to play on a Glynn Watson jumper and pair of made free throws by Palmer. Isaiah Roby’s jumper made it a one-point game, and Palmer’s trey capped a 9-0 run and gave the Huskers a 68-66 advantage with 2:26 to play.
It all set up for a dramatic finish.
“My teammates, they all tell me to keep shooting,” Mykhailiuk said. “During the whole game I was getting decent shots. They just said, ‘Just believe in yourself and keep shooting. We know you’re going to make it.’ ”
Azubuike 13-17 0-0 26, Graham 5-11 4-4 18, Vick 4-9 0-0 9, Mykhailiuk 6-15 0-0 14, Newman 0-5 0-0 0, Lightfoot 1-3 4-4 6, Cunliffe 0-0 0-0 0, Garrett 0-5 0-0 0. Totals 29-65 8-8 73.
Copeland 5-9 0-0 12, Tshimanga 1-2 0-0 2, Palmer 4-9 4-6 14, Taylor 3-5 0-0 6, Watson 5-10 0-0 11, Roby 4-9 0-0 8, Okeke 0-0 0-0 0, Allen 5-7 0-0 13, Gill 2-8 2-2 6. Totals 29-59 6-8 72.
Halftime — Kansas 36-33. 3-Point Goals — Kansas 7-22 (Graham 4-7, Mykhailiuk 2-7, Vick 1-3, Garrett 0-2, Newman 0-3), Nebraska 8-22 (Allen 3-4, Palmer 2-2, Copeland 2-4, Watson 1-2, Taylor 0-2, Gill 0-4, Roby 0-4). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Kansas 33 (Azubuike 10), Nebraska 31 (Copeland 9). Assists — Kansas 19 (Graham 8), Nebraska 14 (Taylor 4). Total Fouls — Kansas 13, Nebraska 15.