LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP)—Big things are expected of No. 2 Kansas because of four talented seniors with Final Four experience.
So how come freshman Russell Robinson was the one making crucial plays Saturday night in the final minutes of a come-from-behind 64-60 victory over South Carolina?
“Russell had the guts to go make a play,” said Kansas coach Bill Self, who seemed disgusted with just about everything else his Jayhawks did. “There were a lot of guys nervous about going out to make a play because things hadn’t gone well. He kind of stepped up and made several.”
Robinson scored four points in the final 36 seconds and allowed the Jayhawks to escape an upset bid by unranked South Carolina, which led most of the game.
The Gamecocks (5-2), 17-point underdogs in their first road game, came out with a full-court pressure defense and seized an 11-0 lead over the fumble-fingered Jayhawks.
But point guard Robinson glided in for a left-handed layup and a 61-58 lead with 36 seconds left.
After Carlos Powell hit a short jumper to make it 61-60, Robinson made two free throws and Keith Langford hit one.
The Jayhawks (7-0) would have been the highest-ranked team beaten by South Carolina on the road. The Gamecocks’ previous best was a 72-66 victory on March 2, 1997, at No. 3 Kentucky.
“We played a great team on their home court,” South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. “This is not the best game (Kansas) has played and hopefully, we had something to do with that.”
Robinson has been competing hard in practice against senior point guard Aaron Miles, who is on the verge of becoming the Big 12’s career assists leader.
“I’m starting to feel real comfortable,” Robinson said. “The coach is confident in me and that gives me confidence.”
Wayne Simien had his sixth double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds, but injured his left thumb in the second half. He came back with the thumb taped, and will have the injury examined on Sunday.
“He’s going to have some X-rays, an MRI or whatever they do to look at that,” Self said. “He’s definitely injured. But to what extent, we don’t know.”
Kansas had five turnovers and a blocked shot in its first six possessions, and did not get its first lead until Langford fed Christian Moody inside to make it 54-52 with 5:03 to go.
“We had some big mental mistakes out there in the first half, but fortunately we were able to turn things around in the second half,” said Moody, who fouled out with four points and two rebounds.
“They were a lot faster than what they looked like on film,” Langford said.
South Carolina held a 58-57 lead when Simien scored underneath to put Kansas on top 59-58 with 1:37 left.
Then J.R. Giddens rebounded a miss by South Carolina’s Antoine Tisby, and Robinson darted in for his layup.
The sellout crowd knew it was going to be a tough night when Kansas freshman C.J. Giles rebounded Josh Gonner’s miss on a foul shot and dropped it into the basket for a South Carolina bucket that put the Gamecocks on top 30-23.
Giles immediately was pulled from the game by Self and didn’t return.
Self didn’t get an explanation from Giles.
“I didn’t ask,” Self said. “What’s he going to say?”
Perplexed by South Carolina’s pressure defense, the Jayhawks had 16 turnovers and shot just 35 percent in the first half. They were only 3-for-11 from beyond the arc.
Tarence Kinsey’s 3-pointer at the buzzer sent the visitors into halftime with a 33-25 lead.
“We do have potential,” Odom said. “Potential will get you fired if that is all you do.”
Giddens had 13 points for Kansas and Langford had 11. Powell had 13 for South Carolina, Gonner had 12 and Kinsey had 11.