LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP)—It took Kansas more than a half to realize it could beat a good team without Wayne Simien.
Keith Langford’s twisting shot in the lane with 3 seconds left in overtime lifted short-handed No. 2 Kansas past No. 9 Georgia Tech 70-68 Saturday, capping the Jayhawks’ rally from a 16-point deficit.
“It’s almost a naked feeling not having (Simien) out there in a big game like that, especially with this team really needing him,” Langford said. “But something happened. Guys just stepped up. We just stepped up to the challenge.”
Simien, Kansas’ leading scorer and rebounder, is out for at least a month with a thumb injury. The Jayhawks were playing for the second time without their star, and Georgia Tech was their first ranked opponent since he went out.
At the outset, the Jayhawks (9-0) seemed to be entirely out of sync.
“Wayne Simien is an All-American. And that’s hard to replace,” said point guard Aaron Miles, who became Kansas’ career assists leader in the win. “But we can do it collectively, and that’s the thing we did. People just stepped up and made plays.”
It was a physical, fast-paced rematch of a regional final in the 2004 NCAA tournament—the Yellow Jackets won that one in overtime en route to the national championship game. Georgia Tech (9-2) was also missing a key player after guard B.J. Elder, its leading scorer, went out in the first half with a strained hamstring. Coach Paul Hewitt said he was not sure how long Elder would be gone.
“It was a very hard-fought game,” Hewitt said. “They made more plays offensively down the stretch than we did. It is awfully disappointing to give out that type of effort and not come away with the win.”
Kansas did not take its first lead until the extra period. Langford had a hand in that, too, stealing the ball to set up Alex Galindo’s basket that gave the hosts a 66-65 edge with 1:38 left in OT.
Then, with the capacity crowd at Allen Fieldhouse screaming, Langford put a spin move on defender Mario West and launched the game-winner.
Langford, who had only two points at halftime, led the Jayhawks with 18, while J.R. Giddens had 16 and Miles finished with 14 in his 116th straight start at point guard.
Miles had eight assists, giving him 808 for his career and breaking the school record of 804, set by Jacque Vaughn in 1993-97.
Jarrett Jack, who led Georgia Tech with 26 points, spoke hurriedly with Langford just before the game.
“Keith walked by me and said, `This is going to be a game on ESPN Classic for a long time,”’ Jack said. “They are probably the grittiest team we have ever played. Their coach kept their heads in the game.”
During the lopsided first half, Kansas coach Bill Self didn’t feel he was doing anything right.
“The assistant coaches kept saying we would be OK, but I was thinking that we were going to get run out of our own gym,” Self said.
Georgia Tech, which beat Kansas 79-71 in the NCAA regional finals but lost to Connecticut in the title game, went up quickly in overtime on Anthony Morrow’s basket. With 2:42 left, Isma’il Muhammad hit a 5-footer in the lane for a 65-61 lead.
Galindo, who helped lead Kansas’ second-half comeback, answered with a 3-pointer that cut the deficit to 65-64.
A moment later, Langford’s bucket made it 68-67, then Muhammad’s free throw with 27 seconds to play tied it at 68.
“It was a great game on New Year’s Day in overtime,” said Georgia Tech’s Will Bynum.
After trimming the deficit to seven points at halftime, Kansas got it down to one point three times. But Luke Schenscher answered with two free throws the first time and Jack came down and scored twice to keep Kansas at bay.
Finally, with 1:15 left in regulation, Langford bounced in a 3-pointer that knotted it at 61-all.
The Jayhawks hit only five of their first 19 shots and trailed 31-15 when Miles missed a layup and Muhammad drove in for a crowd-silencing dunk.
But then Miles and Giddens hit consecutive 3-pointers, and the Jayhawks shaved the lead to 34-27 when Miles went to the line with 2 seconds left in the half. That was the first free throw for any Kansas player.
“The game came down to the toughest team winning,” Galindo said.
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