MANHATTAN — Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham were giddy.
The Kansas basketball senior duo had just earned a 70-56 victory Monday night over in-state rival Kansas State, moving their career records at Bramlage Coliseum to 3-1. That alone had a lot to do with the pair’s excitement, but one aspect of the box scores in front of them at their postgame news conference made the occasion even sweeter.
“We out-rebounded them by 10,” said Mykhailiuk, speaking softly ahead of the first question.
“We out-rebounded them?” responded Graham, whispering.
“Yeah, by 10,” Mykhailiuk answered.
“Oh, we goin’ crazy,” Graham exclaimed — well, as much as one can exclaim in a hushed tone.
Both players smiled.
Video of the exchange — captured and tweeted by Tom Martin, of KCTV5 — went viral locally, receiving more than 300 retweets and 1,100 likes less than 24 hours later.
“Glad we didn’t say anything crazy,” Graham tweeted in response to the video, adding a crying-with-laughter emoji. “Y’all pick up everything.”
Given the No. 7-ranked Jayhawks’ well-documented struggles on the boards this season, it’s somewhat surprising the duo’s reaction wasn’t livelier than it already was.
KU (18-4, 7-2 Big 12) indeed out-rebounded K-State, 41-31, to earn its first victory on the boards since conference play began. In fact, it was the first rebounding win for the Jayhawks since a Dec. 18 contest against Omaha and the first against a Power Five foe since the team’s Dec. 10 home defeat to Arizona State.
It was Malik Newman and Mitch Lightfoot who proved difference-makers on the glass against the Wildcats.
Newman finished with a game- and career-high 10 rebounds, good for a double-double on a night when the sophomore guard also had 13 points. And Lightfoot, who came off the bench in relief of foul-plagued Udoka Azubuike, had five rebounds in 20 minutes, including a game-high three offensive boards.
KU coach Bill Self offered praise for both players in his postgame remarks, starting with Newman.
The two-guard is now averaging 5.3 rebounds through nine conference contests and has at least seven boards in four of the team’s last seven contests. Newman wasn’t always all-in on crashing the glass, Self said, but his recent offensive hot-streak — the former five-star recruit is averaging 13.7 points in conference play — has lifted all other aspects of his game.
“I think he needed to have some good things happen to him, and when he did, the lid came off and then it kind of pumped some energy into him,” Self said. “I think he went through a phase where he was stale and where he was worried about scoring as opposed to just worrying about playing, and tonight we’re talking about how well he played and he took seven shots. So he’s definitely getting better.”
Newman cited jumping ability and anticipation of where the ball is going as the biggest keys to his rebounding success, paving the way for the 6-foot-3 guard to lead the Jayhawks in that category the last two contests.
When that happens, Newman is quick to poke fun at Azubuike and the other KU bigs.
“Oh, of course, all the time, all the time,” Newman said. “I’m the big man on the team.”
Lightfoot, meanwhile, has come on strong of late. While he didn’t score against the Wildcats, he blocked three shots and took a pair of charges at important moments. He secured two offensive rebounds in one particularly long second-half possession.
“I think Mitch has been great,” Self said. “You know, I hate to pick on Doke (Azubuike), but he was a total non-factor defensively, rebounding — everything. I thought Mitch was good. He didn’t score, but he had three blocks and three offensive rebounds. I think Mitch is playing great.”
Lightfoot took a hard spill late in the game on his second taken charge and left the game momentarily. He returned shortly after, though, and later said he felt “good” despite K-State guard Barry Brown falling on his face on the play.
The 6-8 sophomore forward said he has a better understanding than ever of what KU needs out of him for the team to reach its goals.
“I understand my role and embrace it,” Lightfoot said. “I might not need to score as many points as some of the guys on this team, but if they need me on defense, that’s what I’m going to do.
“I feel like for everyone there’s a point in time where, OK, I’m buying in. I’ve always kind of been bought in, but I’ve recommitted myself to what this team needs me to do.”