Kansas’ offense all but shut down in the game’s final minutes, but that didn’t prevent the Jayhawks from pulling out a 60-57 victory over North Carolina State on Friday night.
Kansas advances to the NCAA Midwest Regional final at 4:05 p.m. Sunday against North Carolina in another opportunity for Tar Heels coach Roy Williams to meet his former team. The winner will advance to the Final Four.
The Jayhawks made it hard on themselves.
Leading by eight with 3:45 remaining, Kansas went without a field goal until Elijah Johnson scored on an inbounds pass with 14.8 seconds to play that gave KU a 60-57 lead.
Kansas wasn’t out of the woods.
As in last Sunday’s survival of Purdue, the Jayhawks had to sweat out an opponents’ final possession with a three-point lead.
But Thomas Robinson made it difficult for Richard Howell to receive the court-length pass and get off a shot from in front of the N.C. State bench.
“It was a physical game,” Kansas center Jeff Withey said. “There were a couple of times were we could have put them away but they fought back.”
There wasn’t much scoring but there was plenty of action late, and most of it was created by the Wolfpack as things started getting tense for the Jayhawks.
Kansas led 58-57 when coach Bill Self took a timeout to settle the offense. But Taylor’s pass to Johnson landed at midcourt and Johnson’s heave grazed the backboard.
North Carolina State called a time out with 37 seconds remaining and got two shots. Scott Wood missed a three, and after a tap-out rebound, C.J. Leslie went to the basket and his shot was blocked by a combination of Robinson and Withey.
Withey, a blocked shot specialist, had the best defensive game of his career with 10 blocks and setting a KU single season record (126) in the process. He altered plenty more and was a primary reason why the Wolfpack shot 28.4 percent.
“Anytime you get 10 blocks it’s outstanding,” said N.C. State’s C.J. Leslie, who missed much of the second half with foul trouble. “I had to figure out the game as it went on.”
It seemed everybody’s shooting was off. Kansas missed 13 of 14 three-point attempts, and its poor perimeter shooting continued in the NCAA Tournament. Entering the game, the Jayhawks were shooting 27.5 percent from behind the arc.
Taylor was fouled with 16.1 seconds remaining and missed the front end of a one-and-one. But the ball was knocked of bounds by Leslie.
On the inbounds pass, Taylor found a breaking Johnson at the basket and his layup gave KU a 60-57 lead with 13.5 seconds to play.
The Wolfpack attempted to run a place for Wood, their three-point specialist, but his heels were out of bounds. This mistake was unforced, but Kansas did plenty to frustrate N.C. State all night.
“Their defense was very good, especially around the rim,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said. “Kansas made some key plays at key times.”
Kansas could have taken a little pressure of itself at the free-throw line, but Robinson, who finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds, miss the front end of a bonus with 2.9 seconds to play.
That led to the Wolfpack’s last gasp attempt.
Once again, Kansas grinded out a victory. Last Sunday, Kansas escaped Purdue with a three-point victory.
After sleepwalking through the start of the game, the Jayhawks came up with a purpose to open the second half.
Johnson knocked down a three-pointer to start the half and give Kansas a 35-33 lead.
KU forced a turnover, and Thomas Robinson cleaned up a Withey miss.
No sooner did the Wolfpack’s Leslie scored his team’s first bucket of the half, he collected his third foul swiping at Taylor going to the basket.
Gottfried gambled and kept his top player and leading scorer on the bench for the next eight minutes.
The Kansas lead grew to 44-35 on a pair of Withey free throws at the 15:55 mark.
There simply wasn’t much scoring the remainder of the game, but plenty of drama.
MinFG-AFT-AOR-TRAPFPTHowell 322-120-09-16024Leslie247-164-63-41418Wood372-106-61-42012Brown393-122-31-73310Williams304-80-03-53210Painter171-41-21-3043A Johnson140-20-01-1100Harris70-30-01-3020Totals20019-6713-1721-47101757