LAWRENCE — How one chooses to dole out blame for the unfortunate, unsightly end of Tuesday’s Sunflower Showdown is complicated.
I happened to be mere feet from the action, so I can describe the events from a literal front-row seat in the court-side press section.
The conflict began with one inflection point, really.
Should Kansas State guard DaJuan Gordon have gone for a steal with under 10 seconds remaining?
If you think that’s OK, you come down on the side of playing until the final whistle regardless of what the scoreboard shows. If you don’t, you believe Gordon should have waved a white flag. The No. 3 Jayhawks, as they so often are at Allen Fieldhouse when hosting the Wildcats, were the superior squad. In that vein, Gordon and the Wildcats could — pardon this reference in light of the circumstances — live to fight another day, looking ahead to the rematch at Bramlage Coliseum at 12:30 p.m. Feb. 29, in a nationally televised game on CBS. (Think that game will have a few more eyeballs tuning in now?)
Bear in mind, this isn’t to say Gordon is at fault for the melee that ensued. He can’t control anyone's actions but his own. But some argue that given the circumstances, the move was bad form. Conversely, without Gordon’s steal, undoubtedly, nothing that follows would have come to pass.
Silvio De Sousa, the victim of Gordon’s steal, chased down Gordon and rejected the K-State freshman’s layup attempt near the buzzer. And then De Sousa felt the need to rub said block in Gordon’s face, lording over the Chicago native sprawled across the floor.
All hell broke loose from there.
K-State junior guard David Sloan sprinted up to defend Gordon’s honor. Antonio Gordon, of no relation to DaJuan other than being his teammate, shoved De Sousa, who then threw a punch toward Sloan. James Love — an injured forward for Kansas State who hasn’t played a game all season — arguably showed more fight than he ever has during his time as a Wildcat, swinging back at De Sousa. Things got even crazier from there, as De Sousa, by now having fallen into the seating behind the basket, picked up a stool and appeared ready to use it. That he didn’t possibly is the lone bright spot of what otherwise is a black mark on college basketball.
He deserves a long-term suspension — and he got one Wednesday morning, with the Jayhawks suspending him indefinitely, pending review by KU and the Big 12 league office. Love likely will be suspended as well, though one assumes he won’t miss as much time as De Sousa. Other players from both teams might have to miss games, too, depending on punishment handed down by the conference.
The possibility exists that either De Sousa or Love — or both — are dismissed by their respective programs.
It all circles back to DaJuan Gordon, though.
During his postgame press conference, K-State head coach Bruce Weber said, multiple times, that he told his players to simply let the string of the game play out. DaJuan Gordon didn’t listen.
Weber took a level-headed view of it.
He’s disappointed, yes. But a coach doesn’t want to change a player’s personality, particularly when the passion Gordon possesses is a central part of his game — it’s the fuel to his fire.
On the opposite sideline, KU coach Bill Self didn’t take umbrage with DaJuan Gordon. For him, the situation is paramount. If the roles were reversed, and K-State led by more than 20 points with under a minute to play and Gordon still went for a steal and layup? Then yes, Self said there would be issues.
“If the team is behind, and you teach your kids to play to the whistle, or play the possession, I don’t think that you should take total offense to anything that transpires,” he said. “I’m not sure that it’s the right thing to do, but I’m not going to place any blame on (DaJuan) Gordon, going and taking his ball. Silvio knew he was being defended, and (DaJuan Gordon) took his ball. Certainly, the way Silvio reacted to him taking his ball, going down and blocking the shot — that’s all fair to me.
The horn hadn’t gone off yet. But then what transpired after that is obviously what set everything off.”
Weber and Self’s views, which highlight both sides of the coin, are a microcosm of the entire situation.
When there are this many moving parts, and this many characters involved, there’s never going to be an answer that satisfies everyone.