Quentin Grimes, a 59.6 percent free-throw shooter, stepped to the line and matter-of-factly swished a pair of attempts with 26 seconds left and Kansas leading by four points in the Jayhawks’ 65-57 Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal victory over Texas on Thursday at the Sprint Center.
He made two additional free throws with 15 seconds to play, finishing off the No. 6 seed Longhorns and putting an exclamation point on the performance by No. 3 seed KU’s four freshmen in their first-ever postseason contest.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit. I know the kind of shooter I am. Just go up there and knock ‘em down,” Grimes said of his attitude in trying to convert free throws with a game in balance.
He also hit two free throws that increased a 56-51 lead to seven points with 4:45 remaining.
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“Go out there and take a deep breath, focus on how good a shooter I am and let it fly, knock the free throw down,” said Grimes, a guard from The Woodlands, Texas.
Grimes scored 12 points on 2 of 10 shooting (he was 7 of 8 from the line) with three assists against one turnover in a game that assured the Jayhawks (24-8) a spot in Friday’s 8:30 p.m. semifinal against No. 10 seed West Virginia.
As far as the other KU freshmen … Devon Dotson scored 17 points on 6 of 11 shooting with four assists and no turnovers; David McCormack scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds and Ochai Agbaji went for two points, three boards and two assists in 26 minutes.
“I think we were already grown up, then with this game we kind of let this maturity show,” Grimes said. “We trust in the coaching staff, trust in each other. We just went out and played.”
McCormack, a 6-foot-10 McDonald’s All-American, was huge the first half.
He had nine points and four boards, outscoring Texas freshman big man Jaxson Hayes 9-0 in the half and 13-2 for the game. McCormack and junior Dedric Lawson (16 points, six boards, six turnovers) made sure the Jayhawks almost single-handedly forged a 29-29 tie at the break. Lawson, like McCormack, had nine points the first 20 minutes.
“David has confidence in his game that he can bully anybody out there,” Grimes said. “He plays with tremendous energy. You can’t ever get mad at anybody like that.”
KU coach Bill Self — his Jayhawks held Texas to 35.7 percent shooting (8 of 25 threes to KU’s 3 of 11) — was pleased with the postseason debuts of his first-year players.
“Quentin didn’t have a great start early. He had one point at halftime and one or two from the line,” Self said. “The second half he got his free throws and made a big three and had a run out. He played well.
“I thought Devon was solid the whole game. He played a lot of minutes. He accepted the challenge to guard Matt (Coleman, three points, 1 of 5 shooting, one assist) and I think it wore him (Dotson) down. So he needs to get some rest but I thought they both played well.
“I’ve got to get Ochai playing like he was playing before but certainly he did well. I thought Marcus (Garrett, sophomore guard who added eight rebounds and five points) gave us a nice lift as well.”
Self didn’t forget about McCormack in assessing postgame praise.
“We love throwing the ball inside early in the game. That’s how we’ve always played,” Self said. “He’s the beneficiary of that usually. But we did want to give their bigs something to guard. David has scored better of late and is playing at a much higher level now that he’s had more opportunities.”
Hayes of Texas picked up two early fouls and played just four minutes the first half.
The game remained tied at 33-33 with 18:20 left, KU finally gaining some separation courtesy of an 11-2 run that built a 44-35 lead at 14:58. Lawson hit two free throws, Agbaji a layup off a Grimes steal, McCormack a stickback bucket, Dotson a three and McCormack another inside hoop.
The lead remained nine points, 49-40, during a TV time out at 12:44. A Grimes three upped KU’s lead to 11 points, 54-43, with 9:55 to play.
The Longhorns did cut the gap to five points, 56-51, at 5:12. Grimes followed with two free throws to up the lead back to seven at 4:45. After a Texas free throw, Dotson countered with a layup and it was 60-52 KU at 3:25.
A Kerwin Roach bucket and three sliced KU’s lead to four points, 61-57, at 2:30. Hayes had to be helped off the court after getting injured with 1:58 left and KU up by four points.
The teams did not score again, Grimes getting fouled with 27.2 seconds left. He hit the first free throw and converted again.
KU on Friday night will meet West Virginia in the semis. The two teams split their regular-season meetings.
“The team I watched play tonight is hungry,” Self said of the 14-19 Mountaineers. “They are playing with a free mind. The basket looks big to them and certainly they are rebounding the ball like Bob Huggins’ teams have historically done at West Virginia.”
Tipoff will follow a 6 p.m. game between No. 1 seed Kansas State and No. 5 seed Iowa State.
NOTES: Former KU guard Sherron Collins and center Cole Aldrich attended and sat behind the KU bench. … KU on Thursday improved to 40-9 all-time in the Sprint Center, including 3-0 this season. KU has won the 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016 and 2018 Big 12 Tournaments in the venue and the 2012 and 2016 CBE Hall of Fame Classics. KU defeated New Mexico State, 63-60 on Dec. 8 at Sprint Center. … KU is No. 3 seed in the Big 12 Tournament after a 10-year run as the No. 1 seed. KU won the tourney as 3 seed in 1999 and lost to Texas in the semifinals in 2004. … KU, the defending Big 12 Tournament champ, has won 15 conference postseason tourney titles and 11 in the Big 12 era which began in 1996-97. Kansas (11), Iowa State (4), Oklahoma (3) and Oklahoma State (2) are active league members with Big 12 tourney titles. … KU has won 11 of its last 12 games, 16 of 19 and 19 of 22 against Texas and leads the overall series, 33-9. KU is 5-1 versus Texas in the Big 12 Tournament, 3-0 in Sprint Center. … Bill Self is 23-7 versus Texas as KU coach. … Self is 471-104 while at Kansas and 677-209 overall. … Shaka Smart is 2-8 versus Kansas, including 1-8 while at UT. Smart’s 2011 VCU team defeated Kansas, 71-61, in the NCAA Tournament Southwest Region championship game in San Antonio.. Texas was trying to advance to the Big 12 semifinals for the first time since 2014. … In last year’s title contest, KU guards Malik Newman, Devonté Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk scored 20, 18 and 16 points respectively. The Mountaineers were led by Daxter Miles, who had 25 points and Sagaba Konate, who had 18. Jevon Carter had 17 points and nine assists to go with four boards.