SALT LAKE CITY — Dedric Lawson didn’t put a qualifier on his comment about Devon Dotson, but then again, maybe one wasn’t needed.
Dotson, No. 4-seeded Kansas basketball's freshman point guard, had just wrapped one of the most impressive performances of his inaugural season, scoring 18 points and getting to the rim at will during an 87-53 victory Thursday over No. 13-seeded Northeastern. Asked about the dynamic speed from Dotson that gave the Huskies fits all afternoon, Lawson didn’t offer a muted response.
“Devon,” Lawson said, “is definitely one of the fastest people in the country.”
Not players; people. And the crazy thing is, Northeastern’s guards may very well agree.
Dotson made his presence felt early and often in the blowout. With KU leading 13-11 eight minutes into the contest, Dotson kick-started a personal stretch where over the next five minutes he scored seven points and notched a drive-and-dish assist on a Mitch Lightfoot dunk. The highlight was an athletic layup through contact, and after the bucket, Dotson coolly walked it off, glaring into the crowd.
One of many teammates who showed more excitement for that tough conversion than Dotson himself, Ochai Agbaji enjoyed the up-close view of the 6-foot-2 guard’s beyond-his-years performance.
“Throughout the whole entire game, he was playing with a lot of confidence, and that’s something we need coming from the point guard position, especially him and the big role he’s in,” Agbaji said. “I think having that confidence moving forward is something we always need, and I like watching it. I like him playing with a lot of emotion.”
Dotson wasn’t done authoring first-half highlights.
Lawson hauled in a defensive rebound with 41 seconds left in the period and dished the ball off to Dotson, who drove and laid in the final two points of the Jayhawks’ 37-25 advantage at the break. The layup was converted with 38 seconds remaining, meaning Dotson went the length of the court in just three seconds.
Nothing about the sequence surprised Lawson, who had a hunch Dotson would be a matchup nightmare.
“Oh, I knew that before the game even started, just by looking at the film,” Lawson said. “They were kind of bigger guards, and Devon dominates when he plays bigger guards. His speed is so good and the way he attacks, it’s always good for him.”
Perhaps Dotson’s best moment in the March Madness debut came after a scary moment, and it had nothing to do with the guard’s offensive prowess.
With around 13 minutes left and KU sporting a 17-point lead, Dotson came down awkwardly on his ankle and asked to check out of the game. Dotson didn’t get evaluated on the bench, though, and while the outcome was well in-hand, he requested to back into the game, wanting to gauge the significance of the injury.
A few moments after checking back in and with KU now holding a 28-point advantage, Dotson pick-pocketed Northeastern’s Anthony Green near midcourt, drove to the other end and coaxed a foul. A pair of free-throw makes and 90 seconds later, Dotson drilled a 3-pointer to create a head-spinning 69-36 lead with 6:29 to play.
That the hobbled Dotson had both the want-to and awareness to notch the steal despite his team’s already insurmountable lead wasn’t just a reflection of the point guard’s own focus, he said.
“It means that we’re hungry,” Dotson said. “There’s some individuals that really want it, and we’ll give it everything out there on the floor.”
Dotson said he realized his speed could cause problems during the early-game and-1, also acknowledging he surprised himself “a little bit” with his speed with the full-court drive and layup in the first half’s final minute — “I’ve been moving at I guess a high speed my whole life,” he added.
Lawson offered a glowing review of Dotson’s tournament debut, and coming off his own 25-point, 11-rebound showing, that assessment came from a position of authority.
“He always plays tough. He’s one of the toughest guards in the country,” Lawson said. “He guards 94 feet every game. He’s a very impressive player. To do that for all season is very impressive. ...
“He’s very locked in. We’re going to need him to stay locked in for us to make the best run we can at this.”