For a time, it looked bad for the Kansas Jayhawks. They had fallen behind 11 points and couldn’t make a shot or stop turning the ball over. The unfathomable thought of losing at Texas was starting to become a reality.
A 12-0 run had the Longhorns up 42-31 and the Jayhawks were against the ropes. But, that’s about where that ended, as Kansas came together and gutted out a 64-59 win, Saturday at the Frank Erwin Center to improve to 16-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big 12.
For Texas, it was another lost second half lead that Kansas was happy to take advantage of. The Longhorns (8-9, 0-4) are off to their worst start in conference play under coach Rick Barnes, but could easily be 3-1, after blowing second half leads in three of their four losses.
The game was decided late with a sequence of plays keyed by superb defense that surged Kansas into the lead for good. During that stretch it was clear that the veteran Jayhawks showed poise against a Longhorns team that may be the youngest in the country.
Guard Nadir Tharpe who came up big off the bench down the stretch, drove in for a basket to give the Jayhawks the lead 58-57. On the other end, Texas’ Jonathan Holmes fouled out when he committed an offensive foul against Kansas center Jeff Withey. Back on the offensive end, senior forward Travis Releford was fouled and calmly hit both free throws to give the ‘Hawks a three point lead.
As the clock ticked under a minute to play, Longhorns guard Javan Felix drove inside on Withey, before losing the ball and turning it over to him. Withey hit Tharpe, who dished it to Ben McLemore for an emphatic dunk that sealed the win.
McLemore finished with 16 points to lead Kansas, 11 coming in the second half and added six rebounds. He also seemed to be felling just fine after turning his ankle last Monday against Baylor.
Withey added 14 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks. Releford chipped in 12 points.
Kansas knows the challenges will only get tougher as they travel to Manhattan, Tuesday night to face Kansas State and new coach Bruce Weber.
The Wildcats beat Oklahoma, Saturday afternoon and could move into the Top 15.
The fourth ranked Jayhawks are also sure to move up after number one Louisville lost.