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Sunflower Throwdown: What Happened, What It Means, What’s Next

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The end of an otherwise ho-hum loss for K-State in Lawrence devolved into a brawl between the two teams. Let’s dissect the chaos.

Kansas State v Kansas Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Last night’s non-rivalry game between K-State and KU ended in a full-blown brawl between the two teams that spilled into the spectator section and fortunately did not seem to result in any serious injuries.

If your response to the brawl was to blame K-State’s players, then congratulations! You’re correct. If your response to the brawl was to blame KU’s players, then congratulations! You’re also correct.

If your response went nowhere beyond the binary statements above, then congratulations! You’re part of a tribe.

How It Started

With less than 10 seconds remaining in the game and KU leading by 22, KU forward Silvio de Sousa dribbled into the front court. The Jayhawks were making no effort to score and some of K-State’s players were even untucking their jerseys in anticipation of the game ending.

But K-State guard DaJuan Gordon had other ideas. He stole the ball from de Sousa and drove to the hoop for a meaningless last-second layup. De Sousa had other ideas, auditioning for KU’s men’s volleyball club with a championship-level kill on Gordon’s off-balance layup attempt.

What It Means

First, let’s start with what did not instigate this. K-State pressing KU in the second half while down double digits is not a provocation. Bruce Weber knows this season is going nowhere, but he has to keep his players engaged and get them repetitions for next season. And while it’s easy for fans to say there was no way for K-State to get back into the game, teams at this level can’t allow that mindset until much later in the game.

Moving on to Gordon, let’s dispense with the notion that this is just playing to the whistle. “Playing to the whistle” does not, or should not, include stealing the ball with five seconds left, down 22 and driving in for a meaningless steal. Should it matter? No. But it’s a provocation and risks a response. When the other team is gracious enough to call it off, let them call it off.

Regarding de Sousa, you’re not required to block that shot with two seconds left. Nobody gives a shit whether you win by 22 or 20. Not even the gamblers.

How It Escalated

Had things ended with the blocked shot, K-State could have meaninglessly inbounded the ball with a second left and that would have been that. But again, de Sousa had other ideas. After spiking the shot, he took three deliberate steps toward Gordon, who was by now laying on the floor. Referee John Higgins stood by, one step away, and watched the entire thing unfold, but did nothing.

At that point, Antonio Gordon, Makol Mawien and Levi Stockard left K-State’s bench to run toward the Gordon/de Sousa confrontation. Injured* reserve James Love also left the bench. I won’t attempt to catalog all of KU’s players who also left their bench to join the fracas.

*Too injured to play. Not injured enough not to fight.

What It Means

De Sousa could have let the spiked shot make his point. DaJuan Gordon got a blocked shot to top off a 22-point loss for his team. But as we’re going to see, de-escalation isn’t de Sousa’s M.O. Instead, he walked aggressively toward a player lying on the court and stood over him. This type of taunting is supposedly an automatic technical, not only because it’s unsportsmanlike but because it triggers physical responses to remove the looming threat from the down player’s vicinity.

Remarkably, veteran official John Higgins was not only in the vicinity, but was staring directly at the unfolding confrontation. For an official who apparently prides himself on being quick with calling technical fouls to head off unsportsmanlike play, Higgins exhibited all the aggression of a deer in the headlights in this situation. By merely stepping toward de Sousa and telling him to walk away, Higgins could have defused things.

Antonio Gordon, Mawien and Stockard may be suspended if it’s determined that they engaged in fighting. We’ll get into this in more detail below.

How It Got Out of Hand

At this point, everyone is in one big mass and it gets difficult to figure things out. It looks like Antonio Gordon shoves de Sousa down. De Sousa, in a fight-or-flight response, gets up swinging and full chaos ensues. James Love jumps in here, de Sousa retreats to grab a stool, Love gets got by one of KU’s assistant coaches. KU’s David McCormack, Marcus Garrett and possibly another player surround and appear to stomp or kick Love while he’s down in the corner.

What It Means

Once a mass of people coalesces into a fighting crowd, it’s difficult to assign ultimate blame for who did what. It’s something of a fool’s errand to even bother, because once a fight reaches this point the best hope is that cooler heads prevail upon the parties to go their separate ways. The combination of people pushing in anger and trying to hold others back creates an unstable mass that can lead to escalation, whether advertent or not, of a simmering situation.

One way or another, someone definitely knocked down de Sousa. It looked to me like it was Antonio Gordon. Whether that was an intentional push or inadvertent because of the heaving mass of bodies is impossible to discern. At this point, de Sousa has been attacked, comes back swinging, and eventually has the infamous moment with the chair before a KU assistant coach knocks it out of his hands.

What’s Next

KU has already announced that Silvio de Sousa is suspended indefinitely pending further investigation. This doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know would happen, but it gets KU out in front of the media narrative while we await official word on suspensions.

Note that the NCAA rulebook provides for a one-game suspension for the first case in which an individual gets in a fight, with a second instance resulting in a yearlong suspension. Individuals who leave the bench to join a fight are subject to suspension for the fight, but only to ejection for leaving the bench.

De Sousa and Love likely face the harshest consequences. They were clearly engaged in a fight under the NCAA rulebook. The rulebook doesn’t provide for additional penalties for leaving the bench to join a fight, but it would not surprise me if the Big 12 and K-State agree to a longer suspension for Love for leaving the bench and actually engaging in a fight.

It seems likely that at least the following individuals will also be suspended for fighting: Antonio Gordon, David McCormack and Marcus Garrett. What’s less clear is whether Gordon shoving de Sousa merits the same penalty as McCormack and Garrett going after Love when he was on the ground.

What we don’t know is whether the Big 12 or the schools exercise discretion to add punishments to the players who left the bench as a deterrent to others doing so in the future. The NCAA rulebook provides for ejection, though not suspension, of players who leave the bench during a fight but do not engage in a fight. In this case, ejection isn’t much of a penalty, so it’s possible that the authoritative bodies will want to make a stronger stand. But the list of players who left their benches includes basically the entirety of both rosters, making wholesale suspensions impractical.

In any event, the Big 12 and the two institutions would be wise to use this as a learning event. Small, seemingly inconsequential decisions can start a chain of events that quickly gets out of hand. Nobody was seriously hurt this time, but that may not be the case next time.