Josh Jackson, a 55.2 percent free-throw shooter, stepped to the line and bricked the first of two tosses with 2.8 seconds left Saturday in Kansas’ 80-79 win over Texas Tech at United Supermarkets Arena.
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“I just tried not to think about missing it too much,” said Jackson, Kansas’ 6-foot-8 freshman sensation from Detroit, his miss leaving him one more chance to break a 79-79 tie and avoid overtime.
“I find often when I think about missing one, then I think about missing another (and) it just happens. I kept telling myself to knock it down. It’s what happened.”
Jackson after converted the second attempt — one that gave the Jayhawks (22-3, 10-2 Big 12) a victory over a gritty Tech team (16-9, 4-8) that led by as many as four points late after rallying from a game-high 12-point deficit.
Jackson scored a career-high 31 points on 12-of-15 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds on an afternoon an Frank Mason was slowed by illness and was held to 12 points, five rebounds and no assists in 26 minutes.
Saturday’s box score
Mason fouled out with 3:05 left, meaning coach Bill Self couldn’t design a possible game-winning shot for the team’s leading scorer with five seconds left .
Instead, while pondering his options, Self turned to Jackson.
“I asked him at the time out, ‘Do you want it?’ He said, ‘Yeah I want it,’ like that was a dumb question,” Self said.
Jackson accepted an inbounds pass from Lagerald Vick, then drove the lane where he was fouled by Zach Smith with 2.8 seconds left.
“He did a good job of driving it downhill,” Self said.
Jackson’s path to the basket was made easier when Landen Lucas set a screen that knocked Tech’s Justin Gray to the floor.
“The play that really made the game was the screen Landen made to get me open,” Jackson said. “I think that’s the screen that won the game for us.”
Self explained the thought process during what turned out to be a pair of timeouts, the first called by Self, the second called by Tech coach Chris Beard.
“When we got the rebound with 13 seconds left (following miss by Aaron Ross), I wasn’t going to use it. Devonté (Graham) hesitated. Josh was at halfcourt, so I figured we better call one (timeout). I drew up a crap play in the first one, which I guarantee you wouldn’t have worked,” Self added of a play that would have delivered the ball to Jackson with two seconds left.
“We kind of got a break because Chris called one right after that. We changed it, said, ‘The heck with it. Get the ball to Josh and get out of his way.’ ”
Mason hit 4 of 13 shots, including a huge three with 7:22 left that cut a 65-61 Tech lead to one point. Tech, which was led by the trio of Keenan Evans (25 points), Niem Stevenson (22) and Smith (21), had been on a roll at that point, using a 24-9 run to turn a 52-41 deficit (at 15:48) into a four-point lead.
“Frank wasn’t himself. Frank was half speed. That was obvious. He was sick,” Self said of Mason. “Devonté (six points, 2-of-8 shooting) and Svi (Mykhailiuk, nine points 3-of-10 shooting, 3-8 from three) had big-time off nights. We had to have some guy come through who could score the ball. Josh did that. He was fabulous.
“Offensively we were going to put the ball in Josh’s hands regardless,” Self added of crunch time. “We kind of exchanged roles. Josh kind of became our Frank down the stretch,” Self added.
Self said he was confident Jackson, who hit two of four threes Saturday, would cap “the most complete game he’s had since he’s been here,” by hitting at least one of his final two free throw attempts at 2.8 seconds.
“I was (confident). He made it hard on himself obviously. Making the second one is a lot harder than making the first one. He needs to go through that. That’s part of the growing process. Hopefully that will give him confidence moving forward when the game is on the line because it seems every game we play is a last-possession game. He’ll have the confidence to step up and knock them down.”