NEW ORLEANS – As the horn sounded, the seat cushions rained down on the Superdome floor. Kansas was going back to the national championship game where it will face Kentucky on Monday night for all the marbles.
In a game that will haunt the Ohio State Buckeyes and star Jared Sullinger, Kansas rallied from a 13-point first-half deficit, winning a game that early on had all the makings of a blowout.
But it wasn't. Kansas made the shots and steals when they had to, and when it was over the scoreboard read 64-62.
For Sullinger, it's likely the end of a two-year journey that saw him return for a sophomore season for the sole purpose of winning the title his older brother did not. If this was his last game as a Buckeye, it wasn't a stellar one: 13 points on 5-of-19 shooting.
In the waning moments, the Buckeyes had a chance to tie. Down by three with just a couple ticks left on the clock, Aaron Craft was purposely fouled. He made the first one, then hurriedly missed the second on purpose, hoping to grab the rebound for a put-back basket that would draw things even.
But after rocketing the ball off the front of the rim, Craft was whistled for leaving the foul line too early.
"Thought I waited long enough. Apparently I didn't," Craft said. "I was just trying to hit the rim before everyone else was ready. Seemed to work pretty well. Just needed a little more patience."
And with that, the Buckeyes surrendered, Sullinger slumped to the floor and "Rock Chalk Jayhawk" took over.
"It's just been our whole thing all year – coming back from being down," junior forward Thomas Robinson said. "I don't like doing it, but my team is pretty good when we're down."
The Kansas win sets up a meeting between two of college basketball's most storied programs. Kentucky has won seven titles, the Jayhawks three – the last coming just four years ago. It will also pit two of the nation's premier players against one another: Kentucky's fabulous freshman Anthony Davis and the Jayhawks' Robinson, who had a game-high 19 points in the win over Ohio State.
It was a tale of two halves Saturday night for the Jayhawks and Buckeyes. Ohio State roared out of the locker room, running up an early double-digit lead before surrendering some of it back. Just before the half, Travis Releford made a steal for Kansas, ran the length of the court and laid the ball in just as the buzzer sounded.
While Ohio State still held a nine-point lead, Kansas was back on track, which they showed immediately in the second half by whittling the lead down to three barely five minutes in. From there, the game remained tight.
"It became a momentum thing and we could never get the momentum back on our side," Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said.
Still, Ohio State didn't surrender the lead until Releford drained a pair of free throws to give Kansas a 56-55 advantage at the 2:48 mark.
A pair of free throws followed by a timely steal and bucket by Craft pushed Ohio State back ahead.
Elijah Johnson's acrobatic shot with just over a minute left gave the Jayhawks a 62-59 lead – their largest of the game.
The Buckeyes were within one after William Buford's dunk with nine seconds to go, but they had to foul. Tyshawn Taylor went to the line, knocked down both free throws, setting up the frantic finish that ended with Kansas celebrating.
"I don't know, we were awful – Thomas will tell you – the first half," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "These guys turned it around second half. Thomas labored in the first half, Ty [Taylor] did. We were flat. But we came out and these guys were awesome. We played through our bigs in the second half."
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