LAWRENCE — Disappointing. Embarrassing. Ridiculous.
Those were three words, among many, uttered by the coaches on the opposite sides of the Sunflower Showdown — Kansas State’s Bruce Weber and Kansas’ Bill Self — after Tuesday’s game at Allen Fieldhouse ended in ugly fashion.
As the final seconds wound down, K-State freshman DaJuan Gordon swiped the ball away from KU forward Silvio De Sousa. Gordon pushed up court and soared in for a layup. But De Sousa caught up and emphatically blocked it as Gordon fell to the ground. De Sousa then walked over to tower above Gordon. K-State junior guard David Sloan tried to rush to Gordon’s aid. Antonio Gordon, of no relation to DaJuan, shoved De Sousa.
More players from the two teams joined the fray, escalating into an all-out brawl.
Injured K-State forward James Love came off the bench and exchanged punches with De Sousa. The pushing and shoving spilled into the area behind the basket, where security and members of both teams’ coaching staffs tried to break up the fight. At one point, in an image that immediately went viral on social media, De Sousa picked up a stool and appeared ready to start swinging before he dropped it.
Afterward, Weber repeatedly stated he didn’t see the play unfold, with his back turned toward the action.
“I talked to our team. I did not see it,” Weber said. “I saw DaJuan. ... I turned around to shake hands with Coach Self and their staff, and the next thing I knew, their guys were running and I turned around. That’s all I saw.”
Though the clock initially read zero and both teams headed to the locker room, officials pored over video replays. Upon review, one second went back on the clock and the teams returned.
The officiating crew told Self that the entire bench for both teams had been ejected. The only players who returned to the floor for the final second were the 10 in the game at the time of the block.
“It’s kind of a screwy deal, because I didn’t understand that,” Self said. “Everybody thought the game was over, and it happened after the game. But I guess after the officials looked at it, there was one second left, so anybody who left the bench — even though both teams were in handshake lines — would have been ejected, and the only people who could complete the game would be the guys on the floor at the end.”
The officials assessed De Sousa a technical foul for taunting. K-State senior Pierson McAtee shot (and made) the ensuing free throw. K-State then tapped the ball in, and the game was finally, officially over, with the Wildcats on the wrong end of an 81-60 decision, their 14th straight defeat in Lawrence.
Not that the final score or any plays from the game, aside from Gordon’s steal and De Sousa’s block, were a central focus afterward.
“It’s disappointing,” Weber said. “Again, it should have been avoided. It’s my guys, it’s my fault. Obviously, they came here wanting to have a game, compete, and we didn’t compete like we needed to. Probably a little frustration, especially (from) our young guys. You wish it would have ended a little different. It didn’t. That’s sad.”
Self reacted even more forcefully.
“Obviously, it’s an embarrassment. It’s not something you’d be proud of,” he said. “It (shows) absolutely zero signs of toughness. It’s a sign of immaturity and selfishness more so than it is toughness. So if I was a fan watching ... there would be nothing about that that would intrigue me to want to watch more, at least from what happened tonight. I don’t see anything positive.”
Then, he went a step further.
“It’s inexcusable,” he said. “These things can’t happen.”
Self said he would have to “watch the tape” before he knew the full extent of what transpired. He said he knew one thing for certain, however.
“I know that we were in the wrong. I’m not saying that both parties weren’t in the wrong,” he said, “but I know that we were in the wrong.”
For Weber, that Gordon played hard until the final buzzer is a double-edged sword. He said he doesn’t want to rein in his players’ intensity, especially the underclassmen who are the future of the program.
Conversely, Weber said he had given his team three directives as the clock wound down and the result already decided.
Don’t press. Don’t foul. Back off.
“All we talk about is, ‘Act right, treat people right, play the right way,’” Weber said. “That’s been our way at K-State. I don’t know if (former head football) Coach (Bill) Snyder said it, but that’s how he brought his guys along. That’s what makes K-State special. It probably shouldn’t have happened.”
Weber’s postgame message to his team was concise.
“’You win with class. You lose with class,’” he said. “Disappointing that anything had to happen at the end. That’s all I can say.”
And more won’t be said, from K-State’s side, until later. A K-State spokesman told The Mercury that Weber, athletics director Gene Taylor and the parties involved “will reserve comment until film of the situation has been reviewed in consultation with the Big 12 Conference.” Weber’s next scheduled media availability is Thursday, when he’ll appear on a teleconference along with other coaches around the league to preview the annual Big 12/SEC Challenge. K-State takes on Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday.
KU, on the other hand, wasted no time disseminating a statement on the end-game fracas.
“The conduct of a few of our student-athletes at the conclusion of tonight’s game vs. Kansas State was simply unacceptable and not reflective of who we are,” KU athletics director Jeff Long said in a statement. “Coach Self and I will review the incident, along with the Big 12 Conference and Kansas State, to determine appropriate consequences.
“There is no place for this conduct in college athletics or here at KU. I would like to apologize to the Big 12 Conference, Kansas State University, Gene Taylor, Bruce Weber and all fans for the lack of sportsmanship from members of our team this evening.”
KU announced Wednesday morning that De Sousa was suspended indefinitely for his actions in the brawl.
That things spiraled out of control bothered Self to no end.
Reliving those final moments, he recalled that he initially didn’t think much of it, owing to basketball’s physical nature. Yes, tempers flare. That’s doubly true in heated rivalry games. But usually, cooler heads prevail.
That wasn’t the case Tuesday.
“Sometimes those things kind of start and then they kind of dissolve,” he said. “But yeah, that was an embarrassment on our part for the role we played in it.”
Self wasn’t prepared to announce any punishment immediately afterward. But rest assured, he said, it’s forthcoming.
“There will be consequences that I’m sure I’ll announce (Wednesday),” he said, “as soon as I’m able to study it and come to grips with all of it.”
In the immediacy of it all, Self said there “was no discussion” and “no communication back and forth” with his team afterward about the brawl. And there wouldn’t be until Self saw more replays of what took place.
Still, he took his team to task.
“We talked to them and relayed to them how selfish it was,” he said. “We relayed to them how disappointed we are.”
None drew Self’s ire more than De Sousa, who will forever be inextricably linked to — and never will be able to escape — the lasting images and video the melee wrought. By the time De Sousa picked up the stool, Self was on the scene, running over to the center of the maelstrom after wrapping up his handshake with Weber.
“It’s a terrible image,” he said. “There certainly will be consequences for that.”
As bad as it was, Weber was thankful it wasn’t worse.
“I’m just happy nothing major happened to either team where there was an escalated fight or something, because that would not be the best thing for the Kansas/K-State rivalry or for college basketball,” he said. “It’s a bad, bad play at the end. It’s disappointing. A life lesson for our young guys. Hopefully, next time they’ll be a little smarter.”
Self just wishes his players — De Sousa most of all — had practiced better judgment in the heat of the moment. Irritation and dismay dripping with every word, Self’s frustration peaked noting where the brawl took place: in seating reserved for handicapped fans.
“If you’re going to do something, at least take it on the court or something,” he said. “It’s ridiculous to go into the stands.”
Neither team made their players available to the media after the game.