On Tuesday night, the Kansas Jayhawks found themselves in an 18-point hole thanks to turnovers, poor rebounding and outside shooting, against a high-motored, but injured West Virginia team. West Virginia reached that 18 point lead (40-22) with 1:22 left in the first half. As if this wasn’t enough already to count out KU, Perry Ellis, the junior forward who has been an absolute force the past month, was nowhere to be found. Ellis suffered a sprained right knee during the final minutes of the first half and did not return. The amazing thing is that even with a large deficit and Ellis out (it is also worth noting that WVU was missing star guard Juwan Staten) Kansas found a way to win.
Games like the one Tuesday night are what exemplify Kansas basketball. It took incredible efforts and major contributions from role players like Jamari Traylor and Devonte Graham, as well as rarely seen players like Hunter Mickelson to pull off a comeback victory KU fans will never forget.
Of course, Bill Self has had great comeback wins like this before, but none with such a depleted group of big men. Cliff Alexander, the freshman forward who has underachieved this season but possesses a great deal of talent, has been on the bench for 2 games now for precautionary reasons currently unknown. Alexander will likely miss the Oklahoma game on Saturday as well. Self had no choice going into the second half on Tuesday but to rely on Traylor, Lucas, and Mickelson to fill in for the missing starters at the 4 and 5 spots. Fortunately for KU, Traylor stepped up and played the best and biggest game of his career, (14 pts, 9 rebounds) while Hunter Mickelson (8 pts, 3 steals) and Landon Lucas (6 rebounds, 2 blocks) both provided valuable and productive minutes. The problem is that, although the bench looked good on Tuesday, KU will need to get Perry Ellis back healthy to make any sort of dent in March.
Perry Ellis is a player that has always been somewhat confusing. He came to KU as a 5 star recruit and a McDonald’s All American out of highschool. His freshman year was a let-down until March, which he followed up on by becoming a solid offensive player for KU during his sophomore year (averaging 13.5 pts. a game) and he is now towards the end of a season in which he is up for Big 12 Player of the Year.
Although Ellis started the season poorly, he has been on a rampage during the last month. Starting with the Baylor game, Ellis has scored 18, 19, 23, 24, and 28 in consecutive games (without including the 4 point first half from Tuesday.) It is always great to see a player like Ellis going into March with a hot streak, especially when taking into account that he is the only consistent scoring threat the Jayhawks have that is taller than 6’7’’. As encouraging as Traylor and Mickelson looked playing so well on Tuesday, they are still unproven and cannot be counted on to continue to play at such high levels. Luckily for Self and the Jayhawks, Perry Ellis will likely be able to play after sitting out Saturday against Oklahoma, but even then there is no guarantee that the injury won’t slow him down enough to make a difference. Once March comes, every possession is precious and having players who can create scoring on their own like Ellis can be incredibly valuable. Hopefully for Kansas, Ellis will make a full recovery and bring the program back to the promise land of Final Fours and Championships.