LAWRENCE — A roommate and confidant of Devon Dotson, Dedric Lawson knows better than most what makes the Kansas basketball freshman guard tick.
Late in Wednesday’s down-to-the-wire victory over No. 25 TCU, a national audience got a glimpse into what Lawson already knows.
“He has that alpha male mentality,” Lawson said.
Dotson stabilized after a rough start to become arguably the seventh-ranked Jayhawks’ most important player in the final moments, notching a steal, blocked shot and the game’s final defensive rebound while hitting 3 of 4 free throw attempts in the final three minutes to turn what was a three-point game into an eventual 77-68 victory.
Dotson finished with just five points on 0-for-6 shooting, adding three assists and two steals, but in the closing minutes made what KU coach Bill Self labeled “winning plays” to get KU (13-2, 2-1 Big 12) out of Allen Fieldhouse with a victory.
Self’s analysis had to please the point guard, who had been in the coach’s crosshairs following the team’s 77-60 defeat last Saturday at Iowa State, a contest in which the Jayhawks committed 24 turnovers and looked fully discombobulated. Self told the media on Monday that the team needs an on-court vocal leader, and Dotson is the best candidate for that role.
“Coach Self challenged him about not being a freshman but being a basketball player,” Lawson said. “It’s not about your classification. I think Devon responds to that because Coach, he was on him kind of hard this week. ... I think Devon responded pretty well.”
No sequence better displayed that “alpha male mentality” than the 6-foot-2 guard’s block of TCU counterpart Alex Robinson, a game-sealing moment that came with 23 seconds left and the Jayhawks up seven. As Lawson recalled, Dotson was supposed to switch defensively on the play but stayed with Robinson and stuffed his attempted layup from behind.
“He stayed with him because he really didn’t want his man to score,” Lawson said. “It just shows, like, this intensity that he has and the way he approaches the game and just his competitiveness.”
“I saw him driving to the bucket,” Dotson said, “so I knew I had to make a play.”
Still, Dotson didn’t fully receive a stamp of approval from Self, who described the freshman’s evening as “unique.”
Foul trouble limited Dotson to just seven first-half minutes, and Self said the team played better with sophomore Marcus Garrett at the point. He played better in the second half but still drew Self’s ire for an ill-advised drive in a one-on-two transition opportunity and, in a subsequent play where the Jayhawks had numbers, pulling up and passing to a teammate rather than attempting an uncontested lob pass to freshman guard Ochai Agbaji, who had gotten behind the lone defender.
On the sideline, a perplexed Self asked Dotson: “What are you doing?”
Dotson responded: “You told me to be safe.”
“(I’m) just picking his mind and really just seeing what he wants and learning,” Dotson later said of his relationship with Self. “It’s a process, just knowing what he wants at certain times. But I just get out there and play my game and try to get the win.”
Dotson — who, still recovering from a cold, gave his postgame answers through a nasally voice — said he’s finding his on-court voice as his first collegiate season goes along. Informed of Lawson’s “alpha male” comment, Dotson acknowledged that personality trait is a work in progress.
“I definitely can show more of that,” Dotson said. “When my team needs an energy play or just some motivation, I can be that guy — being the point guard, just being the leader out there on the court (and) just really regulating everything.”
It’s a process that continues with the Jayhawks’ next contest, a 3 p.m. Saturday tilt against Baylor (9-5, 1-1) in Waco, Texas. There, KU will take its third crack at a first true road victory.
“I feel like it’s a huge game for us,” said Dotson, who averages 10.9 points and 2.9 assists. “We need this win, to steal one on the road and just get our confidence up and really build on that win. ... The Big 12 is very deep. Just ready for the challenge."