KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Having advanced past Kansas State and Baylor in the opening rounds of the Big 12 Tournament, the Jayhawks were set to face Bob Huggins and the West Virginia Mountaineers for the third time this season. The championship game of the Big 12 Tournament was played at Sprint Center in Kansas City before a packed, seemingly home court crowd containing only a few scattered, distinct, yellow patches.
The Jayhawks, led by tournament MVP Devonte’ Graham matching his career high with 27 points, fought through five lead changes to win their first Big 12 Tournament title in three years 81-71.
“We just have to keep the confidence that we have, try to keep this momentum going, keep playing together and keep having fun,” sophomore guard Devonte’ Graham said.
Utilizing their usual full-court press, the Mountaineers jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead in the opening segment as junior guard Frank Mason missed two free throws and senior forward Perry Ellis took a seat after charging on the offensive end.
Things began to swing the Jayhawks’ direction when they went on a 6-0 run of their own. Graham connected on two three pointers and junior guard Brannen Greene added another coming off the bench.
Junior forward Landen Lucas picked up his second foul of the game with five minutes to play in the first half and the Mountaineers took advantage. West Virginia screamed back as the final minutes of the period began to tick down and were led by junior forward Devin Williams’ 18 first half points and five rebounds.
Graham came out cooking in the second half and sandwiched an Ellis dunk with two three pointers during a crowd-popping Jayhawk run. The Mountaineers ran into a scoring drought, making only two of 11 shots during a stretch, as junior guard Wayne Selden and Graham continued to add buckets.
As the game played through the second half, Williams resumed what he began in the first. Williams finished with a career high 31 points and added 10 rebounds, two assists and two steals to his line.
“They had a guy that played unreal,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said, speaking of Williams, “we had a couple of guys that did as well.”
With 2:41 to go in the game, a Selden three pointer gave the Jayhawks an eight point lead and fueled a 7-0 run as the crowd became electrified until the final buzzer.
“We’ve been on kind of a high here with momentum, you know, in the last six weeks or so,” Self said. “It’s something that we certainly didn’t want to lose or, you know, fight to have to get back. So I think our guys should be confident going into the weekend.”
Next week the Jayhawks will likely head to Des Moines for the first round of the NCAA Tournament and are expected to be the No. 1 overall seed.
2016 Big 12 All-Tournament Team
Devonte’ Graham (MVP) – Kansas
Buddy Hield – Oklahoma
Perry Ellis – Kansas
Georges Niang – Iowa State
Devin Williams – West Virginia