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Breaking down KU forward Dwight Coleby's big night

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Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) and Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) have a laugh after a bucket by Coleby and a Michigan State foul during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) and Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) have a laugh after a bucket by Coleby and a Michigan State foul during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby, whose nine second-half minutes in Sunday’s second-round NCAA Tournament victory over Michigan State were as important as any played by any player in the game, prides himself on being ready.

But more than that, the 6-foot-9, 240-pound native of the Bahamas prides himself on his easy-going personality.

It’s hard to say that there was a direct correlation between Coleby’s island upbringing and his performance during Sunday’s 90-70 victory, but Coleby believes it could have played a role.

“Yeah, that’s my personality, just calm, relaxed and just focused,” he said. “It probably comes from where I grew up.”

A city of nearly 300,000 people on the island of New Providence, Coleby’s hometown of Nassau is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region and is a popular stop for cruise ships and tourists seeking good snorkeling.

The KU junior who is majoring in communications studies, attended high school in Mississippi (The Piney Woods School) before playing two seasons at Ole Miss and then transferring to Kansas.

Always the biggest and tallest player on his teams growing up, Coleby said he considers himself more of a power player than anything else and always has enjoyed games that feature physical play inside.

“I think I’ve got some kind of muscles for something,” he joked. “More power. I’ve always been that, one that wants to play physical and with contact.”

It was not just his muscles that propelled Coleby into the player of the game conversation following top-seeded KU’s latest victory. He also used his head, and not just on the floor either.

“That was a thing I talked about to him before the game, and this is from my experience of coming off the bench when I was doing that at the time,” said KU senior Landen Lucas, who played sparingly during his first two NCAA Tournaments. “When you’re on the bench early on, you gotta watch the game and understand how you can be effective, see what’s working for the other guys out there. He might’ve picked up on a couple things, and once he got out there, it was just fun to watch at that point in time. The whole team was playing well together and he did a lot of little things that didn’t show up in the stat book that ended up being the difference in the game.”

Just for fun, let’s take a look back.

• Coleby checked into the game for the first time at the 12:14 mark of the second half, nearly 30 minutes into the game and more than 90 minutes after the opening tip. His first stint on the floor was uneventful and lasted just 23 seconds, as Lucas came back in for him at the 11:51 mark.

• Coleby checked back in for Lucas at the 10:38 mark and, within his first minute on the floor, grabbed two big defensive rebounds in a game in which Kansas led by just five points at the time. The second rebound came after a missed jumper by Frank Mason and Coleby immediately went back up with it to put Kansas up 62-55 with 9:42 to play.

• His third of four rebounds came at the 8:39 mark, nearly two minutes after checking back in, and led to a huge roar of approval from an appreciative KU crowd and a pure free throw that put Kansas up 65-57. Coleby missed the second, but it hardly mattered. His work came on the other end where he kept Michigan State’s Nick Ward from grabbing the offensive board and also drew Ward’s fourth foul, which sent him to the bench.

• At the 7:27 mark, 3 minutes and 11 seconds of clock after he checked back in, Coleby went to the bench and Lucas returned. Forty-four seconds later, Lucas picked up foul No. 4 and had to sit with 6:43 to play and Kansas leading by just six. No one knew at the time that Lucas would not be needed again. During his next stint on the floor, Coleby picked up a steal that led to a layup by Josh Jackson (77-65, Kansas) and an offensive rebound of a missed 3-pointer by Jackson that turned into a 3-pointer by Devonte’ Graham (80-67, Kansas). “Huge. Huge,” said Lucas of Coleby’s offensive rebound, which he called one of the biggest plays of the game. “That’s the little things that end up making a big difference in the game. Go from a missed 3 that could’ve been a run-out and, instead, Devonte’ hits the 3. That’s big. That’s what I try to do when I’m in there and he came in and replaced me and I’m proud of him.”

• So charmed was Coleby in this game that even plays that might draw grumbles during most games drew applause and positive nods. The most obvious was his foul on MSU freshman Miles Bridges with 3:12 to play. Instead of letting Bridges go up for an easy two, Coleby hammered him and made him earn the points at the line. Bridges made one of two free throw attempts and Kansas answered with another 3-pointer by Graham on the other end. Net two points for KU.

• From the 6:43 mark to the time he sat for good, Coleby played the game’s next 5 minutes and 16 seconds and did not check out until Kansas led 87-70 with 1:27 to play. Lucas, still with four fouls, came in for him then, but, at that point, it was as much so Coleby could walk off to a hero’s ovation as getting Lucas back in the game. The game was over.

With Coleby’s confidence sky high and his teammates’ faith in him now even higher, the Jayhawks could not help but flash huge smiles of pride and joy when discussing all that Coleby did to help the Jayhawks get back to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.

“Perfect timing,” said sophomore Carlton Bragg Jr., who struggled against Michigan State’s physicality. ““He’s been working all year and tonight he stepped up when his jersey was called.”

Added Coleby: “I always wanted to do something like this on the biggest stage, and to have an opportunity to do it is just great.”

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