Naadir Tharpe (AP)
Naadir Tharpe (AP)
If Kansas goes on to extend its streak of Big 12 titles to nine in a row, the Jayhawks may remember a game-winning shot from a highly unlikely source as the play that put them over the top.
Sophomore Naadir Tharpe, who was only on the floor in double overtime since starting point guard Elijah Johnson had fouled out, took it upon himself to make a play off the dribble against Oklahoma State's weakest defender with Kansas trailing by one. After driving left and spinning right to shake freshman Phil Forte, Tharpe pulled up in the lane and buried a 12 footer with 20 seconds left to give Kansas a 68-67 road victory.
Kansas' victory avenged a previous loss to Oklahoma State in Lawrence and kept the Jayhawks in a first place tie in the Big 12 with Kansas State. Had Kansas lost Wednesday night, the Jayhawks would have been a game back of both the Wildcats and Cowboys and they would have lost any tiebreaker with Oklahoma State.
That Tharpe had the confidence to take the game-winning shot is remarkable considering the nightmarish game he had endured prior to that moment.
Of the 10 shots he attempted prior to Kansas' final possession, Tharpe missed all but one of them, drawing the ire of coach Bill Self and Jayhawks fans watching from home with his rushed perimeter jumpers early in the shot clock. Tharpe also made a key defensive blunder in the final minute of the first overtime, giving up a game-tying corner 3-pointer to Forte after he left the sharp shooter to help on a slashing Marcus Smart.
All was forgiven though when Tharpe redeemed himself, but the Jayhawks still had to come up with one final frantic defensive stop. Only after Markel Brown left a turnaround jump shot short and Travis Releford won a scramble for the ensuing loose ball could Self pump his fists in celebration of a victory Kansas desperately needed.
Even though the result was the most important thing to the Jayhawks, there were other positive omens from the game.
Johnson, who struggled terribly from the field during Kansas' three-game losing streak earlier this month, scored an efficient 10 points and got to the rim consistently. Withey and Releford also delivered as seniors should in big games, the big man delivering 17 points and 14 boards and the wing scoring a team-high 18 points on only 10 shots.
Best of all Kansas survived an off night from star freshman Ben McLemore by playing sound defense, limiting Oklahoma State to only 32.8 percent shooting from the floor. Smart got to the foul line consistently but shot only 2 of 14 from the field, while Le'Bryan Nash didn't score a basket after halftime.
Considering Kansas is done with both Kansas State and Oklahoma State and has three of its final five games at home, the Jayhawks' chances of extending their Big 12 title streak look promising. Road games at Iowa State and Baylor are probably the trickiest tests left, though nothing is a sure thing with a team that stunningly lost at TCU earlier this month in one of the season's biggest upsets.
If Kansas does capture another conference title, Wednesday night's victory will be one of the games that turned things in the Jayhawks' favor. And at the pivotal moment, it was the oft-criticized Tharpe who came through.
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