FORT WORTH, Texas — Crumpled on the court and writhing in pain, Devon Dotson was for a moment the personification of where Kansas basketball’s Big 12 title hopes stood just minutes earlier.
Not unlike the Jayhawks, though, Dotson got up before the proverbial 10 count. In doing so, the freshman point guard helped avoid what could’ve been a mortal blow to both streak and season.
“He was really tough. Like, really tough," teammate Ochai Agbaji later remarked. "One of the toughest guys on the court.”
Dotson scored a game- and career-high 25 points and hauled in 10 rebounds, playing every minute of the No. 14-ranked Jayhawks’ 82-77 overtime victory against TCU on Monday night at Schollmaier Arena. Agbaji finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds, junior forward Dedric Lawson shook a slow start to a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double, and KU (19-6, 8-4 Big 12) recovered from a blown 12-point, second-half lead to escape with only the team’s second victory in eight true road contests.
With the win, the Jayhawks moved one game out of the league lead — first-place Kansas State, which has played two fewer games than KU in conference play, played Texas at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Austin.
Good and bad, Dotson was at the heart of everything in Monday's must-have outcome.
He committed a game-high six turnovers, including at key moments in the Horned Frogs’ frenzied comeback. He delivered a perfect bounce pass on the Jayhawks’ final possession of regulation to reserve K.J. Lawson, whose floater with 24.1 seconds left sent the game to its extra session at 69-all. He made the extra pass that gave a wide-open 3-point look to his fellow freshman Agbaji, who set the tone with the first points of overtime.
Then, with KU nursing a one-point lead with 40 seconds remaining in overtime and the Jayhawks left with only five scholarship players who hadn't at that point fouled out, Dotson drove into the paint and was dumped on a hard foul. He remained on the ground for several seconds, favoring his right calf in what he later labeled a cramp.
It was a tense moment for the Jayhawks, who faced the prospect of replacing Dotson with walk-on Chris Teahan. A back-breaking defeat in KU's quest for a national record-extending 15th straight conference championship was firmly in play.
Teahan prepared for the possibility of replacing a player who to that point had proven irreplaceable.
“He was kind of on the bench a little bit worried," Agbaji said with a laugh, recalling what Teahan said of the sequence in the postgame locker room.
KU coach Bill Self, however, wasn’t sweating the situation.
“He had to get up. I mean, there was no choice,” Self said. “I mean, he was going to get up — it was just whether we had to call timeout to let him regroup. He said, ‘No.’ ”
Dotson’s view of the sequence — which began from a horizontal perspective — was similar.
“(Self) said, ‘You got this. Knock it down,’ ” Dotson recalled. “He asked me, ‘Can you do it?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I got it.’ And I knocked ’em down.”
That he did.
Dotson stayed in the game and hit both ensuing free-throw attempts, the first of six consecutive makes in the overtime period, and the 6-foot-2, 185-pound native of Charlotte, N.C., closed the ledger on what became his third 18-plus-point effort across the Jayhawks’ last four contests.
“It was huge for us,” Dotson said of the victory. “We knew we wanted to really turn around our road season. Kind of struggling there. This was a big win for us. We knew coming into it (this) was going to be a fight. They weren’t going to let up. We just wanted to turn things around.”
Added Self of Dotson: “He was pretty special tonight.”
Monday’s victory took a village for KU, which was down four expected contributors in Silvio De Sousa (ineligible), Udoka Azubuike (season-ending hand injury), Marcus Garrett (day-to-day with an ankle injury) and Lagerald Vick (indefinite leave of absence).
K.J. Lawson, who finished with 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting in a 16-minute appearance, put the Jayhawks in front for good with a floater at the 1:09 mark in overtime. Freshman forward David McCormack ripped a rebound away from a TCU counterpart on a missed Horned Frog free-throw attempt following Dotson’s resilient makes. Junior forward Mitch Lightfoot recorded six rebounds and three key blocks before fouling out, a fate that also befell Dedric Lawson and Quentin Grimes.
“That’s the best (postgame) locker room we’ve had all year, by far,” Self said. “I mean, even (after wins over) Tennessee, Marquette, Michigan State, Villanova, it wasn’t like that. That was a game in which we played really well for the most part, then we screwed up, and then somehow or another were able to pull it back. We were fortunate that it went to overtime after we screwed it up, and then we played really well in OT.”
Desmond Bane’s 18 points paced TCU (17-7, 5-6), which lost at home for the first time in Big 12 play.
KU returns to action with a 3 p.m. Saturday home date with last-place West Virginia. A much-needed week off follows before a high-stakes 7 p.m. Feb. 23 contest at No. 15 Texas Tech in Lubbock.
Where the Jayhawks will stand in the league race at tipoff of that clash is of course unknown, but at the very least, Monday’s outcome ensured they’re still afloat.
“For us, we’re way back, OK? We’re way back,” Self said of the Big 12 standings. “But, it at least keeps us in the game. Now we get a chance to see if we can improve on that this weekend, and then we get a chance to catch our breath, obviously, because we don’t play until the following Saturday. It’s probably not a bad time for us to be able to kind of get our batteries recharged.
“We’re in the game, but by no means are we in a favorable position. But if we hadn’t won tonight, (it) may have been too much.”