Devonte' Graham beats Buddy Hield at his own game

Graham's big game key to Kansas win (1:18)

Dan Shulman and Jay Bilas break down Devonte' Graham's big performance in scoring 27 points for Kansas while keeping Oklahoma's Buddy Hield in check. (1:18)

NORMAN, Okla. -- Bill Self pulled Devonte' Graham aside Wednesday and informed him that, come Kansas' game against Oklahoma, he would be guarding Buddy Hield.

Graham smiled.

"Smile and cut your heart out. That’s the kind of kid he is," Self said.

Consider this, then, an evisceration at least delivered pleasantly.

People who came to the Lloyd Noble Center for Kansas vs. Oklahoma Part II hoping to see a high-octane show from a star whose flair and showmanship is almost as good as his game got what they paid for.

They just didn’t get what they expected.

Graham not only chased Hield into a quiet (by his standards) shooting night, but he also out-Buddy-bucketed Buddy Buckets. Graham scored Kansas’ first field goal and its last, weaving together a masterful performance in between that ended with a game-high 27 points and a 76-72 Kansas win.

"I knew he was good, but he showed me something today," Self said of Graham. "He has a chance to be one of the premiere guards in the country. What he did for us in the second half, he put us on his shoulders."

He has sort of done that all season, just quietly.

Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden Jr. and Frank Mason III are the guts of this Kansas team. Graham is the motor.

He’s a big personality in a little guard, the yapping, smiling yin to Mason’s stoic yang.

But Graham is also wildly under the radar and isn’t the type to really like being there. He didn’t exactly say he wanted to stop the Buddy love, but he wanted to stop the Buddy love.

"Everything is Buddy, Buddy, Buddy, Buddy, and he deserves it," Self said. "But that’s also a natural motivator for other people."

Everything leading up to this game was Buddy, Buddy, Buddy, Buddy because Buddy dropped 46 against Kansas in a triple-overtime classic earlier this season.

Even Self’s gameplan was Buddy, Buddy, Buddy, Buddy. As in what in the heck do we do to slow him down?

Self decided he’d have to play underneath him. That left him with two choices -- Mason or Graham. He gave Graham the gig, figuring they could switch if anyone got in foul trouble.

Mason did get in foul trouble, but the two never did switch. They didn’t have to because Graham was so good. Hield went to the locker room at halftime without a made shot from the floor, the first time he’d gone 0-for a half all season.

Self knew that wouldn’t last.

"The law of averages," he said with a grin.

And sure enough, Hield sunk his first bucket, a 3-pointer, just 90 seconds into the second half. But while Hield connected on five shots (tying for his second fewest this year), it was never the sort of show we’ve come to expect. If there is such a thing as a quiet 24 points or a quiet Hield, this was it.

It’s because everywhere Hield went, there was Graham, fighting through one screen or running around another.

"I took it as a challenge," Graham said. "He still got 24 points, but I feel like I did a strong job on him, especially in the first half."

Graham played 39 minutes, chasing Hield for 37 of them.

And really, that should be enough, enough contribution to one game and enough to merit a nice date with an oxygen tank.

"He never got tired," Self said in amazement.

Indeed, for every good thing Graham did on the defensive end, he did two more on the offensive side. The 27 points weren’t just impressive in their quantity, but also their quality, one big shot after another.

  • After Hield swished a stop-and-pop 3 to put OU up 62-59, Graham scored on a scoop underneath and followed with his own 3, giving KU the lead back.

  • With OU up three and Mason on the bench after collecting his fifth foul, Graham went down and drained a 3 to tie it.

  • And then the dagger. With Kansas down 72-70 and just 2:18 left to play, Graham drained yet another trey, this one a fearless swish from deep in the corner by his own bench to give KU the lead for good. Graham strutted for a split second after that one, nodding his head and turning with a smirk to let the crowd get a good look."Coach always tells us to enjoy ourselves and to have fun," Graham said. "I was just out there having fun."Graham has a unique appreciation for the joy that is being a Kansas basketball player, mostly because he wasn’t supposed to be one.Had form held, Graham would have been playing at Texas-Arlington on Saturday night, trying to help Appalachian State snap a four-game losing streak. That’s where he was targeted to go in 2012. Unranked by all of the recruiting gurus, he signed with Appalachian State in the fall of his senior year of high school. But that season, to use a favorite recruiting parlance, Graham "blew up" and became recognized as one of the more talented guards in North Carolina. He wanted to get out of his letter of intent, only then-Appalachian State coach Jason Capel wouldn’t let him. Capel was convinced N.C. State had done a little tampering and nixed the release.

    Graham enrolled at Brewster Academy, hoping he'd get his release during the year at the prep school. His family made up T-shirts -- "Free D-Tae," they read -- and worried if he’d be able to go where he chose.

    Finally, in April of 2014, after Capel had been fired and replaced by Jim Fox, Graham indeed was free to go.

    And so on Saturday afternoon, instead of waiting to play a road game in the Sun Belt Conference, Graham sat on the postgame dais, the star of the day for the No. 6 team in the country, the kid who just dropped 27 in the GameDay feature matchup.

    "No chance," he said when asked of the odds.

    And then he smiled.