Mustapha Amzil’s well-guarded 12-foot shot in the lane with 1.4 seconds left hit the front of the rim, kissed high off the backboard and fell through the goal, giving mid-major Dayton of the Atlantic 10 Conference an improbable, come-from-behind victory over No. 4-ranked Kansas on Friday afternoon in HP Fieldhouse at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex.
“At the time,” KU senior guard Ochai Agbaji said after the Jayhawks’ shocking 74-73 loss in the semifinals of the ESPN Events Invitational, “I was thinking he didn’t get it off in time. But everyone started shaking hands and stuff, so I figured yeah he made it in time.”
Dayton’s players, who ultimately made KU pay for squandering a 15-point first-half lead that turned into a seven-point second-half deficit, didn’t mob Amzil, a 6-foot-9 freshman from Finland, mistakenly. He clearly released his shot — his only attempt in the game — over the outstretched left hand of Christian Braun — well before the final horn sounded.
“The way it went down at the end … was just good fortune, bad fortune. They made the play and we didn’t,” KU coach Bill Self said after his team’s first loss of the season against four victories. Dayton, which has lost home games to UMass-Lowell, Lipscomb and Austin Peay, improved to 3-3.
The fortune part of it refers to how Amzil gained possession of the basketball with a chance to erase a 73-72 deficit in the game’s waning moments. Dayton guard Malachi Smith, who was handling the basketball on a possession that started with 19 seconds to play following a controversial charging call on KU’s David McCormack, drove past Jalen Wilson and stormed toward the goal with 8 seconds left.
Wilson and McCormack both jumped, McCormack coming up with a forceful blocked shot with 4.6 seconds to play, KU still up by one.
The rejection, however, caromed not out of bounds or to a KU player, but straight to Amzil in the corner. He headed up into the paint instead of down the baseline and hit the jumper that propelled Dayton into Sunday’s tourney final against Belmont.
“It was one of those things. I had the opportunity to take that shot at the end. It feels great,” said Amzil. He noted he’d hit a buzzer-beater once before, in an Under 16 international competition for Finland.
“I saw the clock when I was driving,” he noted. “I was about to kick it out, but there was just 1 second so I just had to take the shot. I had to watch the ball bounce in. It’s hard to describe. It’s surreal, a great feeling,” Amzil added.
Braun — who had a huge game with 17 points, five assists, four steals and eight rebounds — said: “We got a good block and tried to scramble out. The guy hit a tough shot.”
Braun said after McCormack’s block, “I knew the game wasn’t over. I thought about fouling (since KU had one to give before the bonus). The guy jumped up and hit a tough shot.”
Of the sequence, Self said; “Defensively there at the end we subbed. No. 11 (Smith) was going to drive right. He beat us right. David came up to support. He made a good block. After that it was just good fortune, luck. He happened to block it right to their guy and their guy made an unbelievable shot. Give him credit. C.B. defended it as well as you can defend it. It was a heck of a shot. They deserve it. That was a great basketball team we played today.”
McCormack, who had five points on 2-of-6 shooting with five steals, five rebounds and two blocks, in 25 minutes, moments earlier had a chance to increase KU’s late lead from one to three.
Braun flipped a pass from past the three-point line into McCormack, who after dribbling and pivoting made contact with Kobe Brea with his shoulder. It was called a charge with 19.6 seconds left meaning Dayton had time for a final possession that the Flyers made count.
“I couldn’t tell. I guess he fell down. It’s hard to take a charge and not fall down,” Self said. Actually Brea did not fall after contact was made. “I don’t now if it’s good or bad (call). The bottom line is we didn’t execute when we needed to,” Self added.
The Jayhawks, who along with Dayton, appeared to have between 1,000 and 2,000 fans at the game in the 5,000-seat building, looked like they’d cruise into the tourney finals and perhaps win their seventh consecutive in-season tournament. KU held a comfortable 15-point lead with 1 minute, 43 seconds left in the first half.
Dayton went on a 24-6 run and turned a 44-29 deficit (with 1:43 left in the first half) into a 53-50 lead at 14:47. The Flyers led 68-61 with seven minutes left.
KU also appeared to be in great shape in crunch time. Remy Martin (17 points, zero assists) hit a jumper, then Agbaji converted a driving layup and a dunk and KU turned a 70-67 deficit into a 73-70 lead at 1:04.
“We hurt ourselves obviously with free throws (9 of 20 to Dayton’s 11 of 19) and some things like that, but they played really well,” Self said of Dayton.
Agbaji, who scored 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting (2 of 6 from three on a day KU was 4 of 19) said: “It was just a poor performance by me and a lot of guys on our team. I know we can all do better.”
Self lamented not cracking open the game when the Jayhawks were up big.
“You’ve got total control over it. Instead of going in (halftime) up 17 you go in up 10. That’s a big difference,” said Self, whose Jayhawks led 45-35 at halftime.
KU lost to a Dayton team (3-3) that has 12 freshmen on the roster. The Flyers became the second team over the last 10 seasons to come from 15 points down and beat an AP top-5 team on a buzzer-beater, joining Stephen F. Austin at No. 1 Duke in 2019.
“The main thing,” Agbaji said, “is staying together. It’s a long season. We have a lot more games, a lot more chances to get on the court and get better. It’s one loss, but down the road we are going to look back and see we gained a lot from this.”