"I think the biggest thing [he said] was to make sure we play as a team," said Jalen Wilson, who led the Jayhawks with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists.
He added that Self also told his players that the Champions Classic matchup was not about the individual talent on the floor but about "Kansas vs. Duke."
That attitude helped the Jayhawks maintain their composure down the stretch without their head coach on the sideline as Duke took the lead late in Tuesday's game, which ended around midnight local time following Kentucky and Michigan State's double-overtime affair.
Self is serving a school-imposed four-game suspension, along with assistant Kurtis Townsend, as part of the fallout from a 2017 federal investigation into college basketball corruption. The case against Kansas has been mired in an independent review process for years, so the school self-imposed the penalties rather than continue waiting for a resolution.
Both will return for next week's neutral-site game against NC State.
Although he can't coach the Jayhawks, Self has been leading them in practice.
"He's been coaching them really hard," said Norm Roberts, the acting head coach during Self's suspension.
Down by four points at halftime, Duke rallied and took a 51-45 lead with 12:01 to play after freshman Kyle Filipowski (17 points, 14 rebounds) changed the tone with a strong effort. But the fist-pumping and celebrating stopped as Kansas grew more stubborn on defense.
Gradey Dick (14 points), the five-star freshman who has worn pink shoes in his first three games ("I guess it's just style," he said), scored eight points in three straight possessions over an 80-second span that helped Kansas seal the win.
"He was terrific," Roberts said. "We didn't know where he was. He was a missing person in most of the second half. This was the first big boy game he played and I thought he really responded well at the end."
Dick said playing next to Wilson and Dajuan Harris (6 points, 10 assists) -- two players who helped the Jayhawks win the 2022 national championship -- helped him stay focused after a rough start.
"Probably our biggest advantage as a team is that [Wilson] and [Harris] have been [to the national championship] when no one else has been," he said.
Duke coach Jon Scheyer said his team wrestled with its emotions after taking the lead midway through the second half and then surrendered it.
"I thought they made us work harder on defense than we made them work," he said.