AMES, Iowa (AP)—Wayne Simien came back just in time to keep Kansas perfect.
Keith Langford scored 18 points and Simien returned from a four-game absence to make some big plays that helped the second-ranked Jayhawks escape with a 71-66 victory over Iowa State on Wednesday night.
“We did what we had to do,” Simien said. “Losing here last year, we had a long bus ride home and that was hard.”
Simien, a preseason All-America, hadn’t played since undergoing surgery on his left thumb Dec. 20. Earlier in the week, coach Bill Self had rated Simien’s chances of playing at 1 percent. But he was the first player out when the starting lineups were introduced, wearing a soft cast to protect the thumb.
Just having him on the floor would have been a boost for the Jayhawks (12-0, 2-0 Big 12), but Simien did more than just show up against a team that rarely loses at home. He scored 13 points in 37 minutes, grabbed nine rebounds and sparked an 8-0 run that put Kansas ahead to stay after Iowa State had rallied from eight down to take a 54-52 lead.
“It felt great,” Simien said. “It was almost a game-time decision whether I would play. They tried different casts and the referees approved the one I wore. It was a bit bulky, but shooting-wise, I was fine.”
Langford had been questionable after sustaining a concussion in Sunday’s 65-59 victory at No. 9 Kentucky. But he started and played 36 minutes, shooting 7-for-11 and handing out five assists. J.R. Giddens scored 13 points for the Jayhawks, 11 in the first half.
Forward Christian Moody missed the game after spraining an ankle in the final minutes against Kentucky. That made Simien’s return all the more crucial.
“He wanted to play no matter what, but when he saw Christian was out … I’m sure that had something to do with Wayne being adamant about playing,” Self said.
Iowa State coach Wayne Morgan wasn’t surprised to see Simien and Langford on the floor. Russell Robinson also played for the Jayhawks after leaving the Kentucky game with a scratched cornea.
“I knew they all would play,” Morgan said. “That other stuff was charades. They’re all going to play because they want to win.”
Iowa State (8-5, 0-2) lost for just the second time in 27 home games under Morgan. Curtis Stinson recovered from a 1-for-12 start to lead the Cyclones with 18 points. He played the final 9 minutes with a plug in his left nostril to control a bloody nose.
Will Blalock scored 17 points, while Jared Homan had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Langford started the decisive run with a baseline jumper and Simien followed with a leaning turnaround shot from the left side, putting the Jayhawks up 56-54. Simien then deflected an Iowa State pass, setting up Michael Lee’s layup, and the lead grew to 60-54 when Langford tipped in Simien’s miss.
A little more than 2 minutes after falling behind, the Jayhawks were back in control with 5 1/2 minutes left. But not out of danger.
Kansas missed three straight shots down the stretch and Iowa State hung in, drawing to 69-66 on Anthony Davis’ two free throws with 12 seconds remaining. But Lee, shooting 90 percent from the line, hit two free throws to secure it and the Jayhawks got out of town with their perfect record intact.
Earlier, freshman Alex Galindo had made three of four free throws to help keep the Jayhawks on top.
“I was scared,” Galindo admitted. “If we lose, it’s my fault. It was a tough win, but we got it.”
Stinson missed his first six shots and didn’t make a basket until hitting a layup with 6:16 left in the opening half. Though he finished 6-for-20, he got it going in the second half, scoring six points in a 10-0 run that put Iowa State in front—a lead that would last all of 30 seconds.
Kansas made 11 of its first 14 shots, but Iowa State kept pace with the inside scoring of Homan and Damion Staple, who were able to back their defenders into the lane for jump hooks or turnaround shots.
The Jayhawks got the lead up to seven before a 5-0 run drew Iowa State to 36-35. Langford’s long jumper made it 38-35 at halftime.
“There’s not much you can do. They’re a great team,” Blalock said. “We played defense. Our hands were up. They just made tough shots.”
Langford went down when he was hit in the head with 33 seconds left in the first half and had to be helped off the floor. Though looking woozy as he sat the bench, he returned for the start of the second half.