LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP)—Michael Lee could hardly force himself to watch. Nebraska’s Corey Simms had an open look at a 3-pointer that could beat Kansas at the buzzer.
Simms’ shot bounced off the rim, though, providing Lee and the second-ranked Jayhawks with the last lucky break they needed for a sloppy and shaky 59-57 victory Wednesday night.
“I thought, oh no!” said Lee, who like everybody else in a Kansas uniform expected Joe McCray to take the Cornhuskers’ last shot.
“We got lucky. He had a wide-open look,” Lee said. “You can’t draw it up any better than that for a game-winning shot.”
Wayne Simien scored all 12 of his points in the second half for the Jayhawks (14-0, 4-0 Big 12), who remained one of four unbeaten Division I teams despite getting outrebounded 43-36 and making only 13 of 28 free throws.
But Kansas was smart to think McCray, the sure-shot freshman for the Cornhuskers (8-6, 2-2), would get the ball.
“It was designed to go to Joe or Wes (Wilkinson),” Nebraska coach Barry Collier said. “But we needed another screen and that is my fault.”
Simms, who was 0-for-2 from behind the arc coming in and had not attempted a 3-pointer all night, launched his shot with 2.6 seconds left as the Huskers went for the win and not the tie.
“It felt good,” Simms said. “It came down to that and it was off a couple of inches. There were four or five guys that wanted that shot.”
The Jayhawks trailed by three at halftime after Simien, the only Big 12 player averaging a double-double, sat down with two quick fouls and did not have a point or a rebound in the first half.
But then Simien had five points and five rebounds in a 10-0 run to start the second half and it looked as if the Jayhawks were on their way to the easy victory most of the sellout crowd expected.
But the Huskers lead the Big 12 in scoring defense at 58.8 points per game and played like it, holding the Jayhawks almost 20 points below their season average.
“Frustrated is a good word,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “They did a great job of controlling the tempo. If we make our free throws, we win the game comfortably.”
Keith Langford, who did not have a field goal in the first half, made it 51-45 Kansas with a pair of free throws with 4:40 to go, but McCray scored the next eight points for Nebraska, and the Jayhawks could not put the underdogs away.
McCray had 19 points and Wilkinson 16 for Nebraska, which shot only 32 percent against the tight Kansas defense.
Langford and J.R. Giddens each scored nine for Kansas, and Aaron Miles and Galindo had eight apiece.
McCray worked inside for a basket that made it 58-57, then Miles hit one of two free throws to give the Jayhawks a 59-57 lead with 24.3 seconds to go.
From where Collier stood, Simms’ shot looked true.
“Our kids defended well and so did Kansas,” he said. “It was a great game because of those two factors.”
The Jayhawks, back at home after three straight road games, missed their first eight shots and trailed 24-21 when Giddens missed a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer.
With Simien on the bench and Langford in the locker room after hobbling away, Galindo kept the Jayhawks from falling into an even deeper hole in the first half when he hit two 3-pointers and a layup in an 8-0 surge.
Nebraska then outscored the Jayhawks 10-5 the final few minutes of the half.