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Kansas eyeing Big 12 title after outlasting Oklahoma State

The SportsXchange

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Kansas hasn't released its stranglehold on the Big 12 Conference just yet.

Not hardly.

Avenging an earlier home loss to Oklahoma State that set off a three-game losing streak and queued up questions about their status as the league's elite team, the No. 9-ranked Jayhawks re-established themselves as at least the co-favorite Wednesday night, beating the No. 14 Cowboys 68-67 in double overtime.

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe tossed in a running jumper in the lane with 16.5 seconds remaining in the second extra period to send the Jayhawks in front before Oklahoma State's Markel Brown missed an 18-footer at the other end, finally ending a rugged clash of conference frontrunners.

With the win, KU improved to 10-3 in the Big 12 -- tied with Kansas State atop the league standings -- and 22-4 overall. And the Jayhawks remain alive for a ninth straight regular-season conference crown.

"It's a huge win for conference implications," said KU coach Bill Self. "I really thought that Oklahoma State had the best path. I'm not saying we couldn't have won it, but we now still have the toughest road of anybody.

"We're still in the game, though. This was huge today. Oklahoma State is terrific. They've got a terrific team, they're coached great and the crowd was great. It was definitely rocking tonight. We couldn't communicate and we couldn't hear."

Oklahoma State (19-6, 9-4) saw its seven-game winning streak snapped.

"It's really tough, but we can't dwell on it," said the Cowboys' Markel Brown. "We've got to move on. It's the Big 12. It was a long game, so we have to get our rest for Saturday."

Tharpe, running the offense for a fouled-out Elijah Johnson, had made just 1-of-10 shots from the floor, before the game-winner, which he made despite solid defense from Oklahoma State's Phil Forte.

"Tonight, he couldn't get the ball in the basket," Self said of Tharpe. "He has actually improved his floater shot, but the one shot he made, if I'm not mistaken, was a hard, twisting layup. We didn't really have any offense, though. Neither team had any offense.

"He certainly made a huge play there late. Biggest play of his life, I'm sure."

Said Tharpe: "I knew I had to make a play. I missed a couple of easy shots earlier in the game and my teammates just really helped me out."

Travis Releford led the Jayhawks with 18 points, while Jeff Withey added 17 in the win.

Brown led the Cowboys with 20 points. Marcus Smart, who fouled out on a charging call in the second overtime, added 16 for Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys had a chance to win at the end of regulation, but Smart's fade-away 16-footer was short and off the rim.

Smart had scored six of Oklahoma State's final eight points in regulation, helping the Cowboys overcome a 57-53 deficit at the 1:48 mark. The Jayhawks didn't score again until the first overtime, as the teams went to the extra period tied at 57-57.

And they were tied still after one overtime, although Smart had another final shot, this one from 75 feet, that glanced off the front of the rim.

Tharpe's floater was KU's only field goal in either overtime, with its other nine points coming at the foul line.

A sold-out crowd of 16,311 at Gallagher-Iba Arena roared throughout as the teams battled for a share of the Big 12 lead with Kansas State, which had already won this week to move to 10-3 in the league.

NOTES: Kansas center Withey, the school and Big 12 all-time leader in blocked shots, entered the game with 100 blocks this season and 265 for his career. ... The game featured the top two contenders for both Big 12 Rookie and Player of the Year -- the same guys -- in the Jayhawks' Ben McLemore and Oklahoma State's Smart. ... Self, who played at Oklahoma State and was an assistant coach under Eddie Sutton, entered the game 9-5 against his alma mater while the Jayhawks coach.
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