NCAA Tournament 2012: Elijah Johnson, Kansas Jayhawks Survive Test from Purdue

Max GoodwinContributor IIIMarch 19, 2012

OMAHA, NE - MARCH 18:  Elijah Johnson #15 of the Kansas Jayhawks celebrates with teammates after they won 63-60 against the Purdue Boilermakers during the third round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at CenturyLink Center on March 18, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska.  (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

Robbie Hummel scored 22 points in the first half against Kansas Sunday night, hitting on seven of eight shots, five of six from three-point land. The Jayhawks had no defensive answer to the 6'10" shooter of Purdue.

"I felt like he was throwing a rock in the ocean," Tyshawn Taylor said in the postgame press conference.

At the other end of the floor, the Boilermakers collapsed on Kansas big man junior Thomas Robinson, holding him to just three points at half. The Jayhawks failed to make Purdue pay for the double and triple teams on Robinson missing the first eight attempts from beyond the arc.

As a team, Kansas shot just 29.4 percent from the field in the first half, the lowest in the of a NCAA tournament game in program history.

Purdue led the whole way. They seemed destined to end the Jayhawks hopes just as VCU had a year before, and Northern Iowa the year before that. A scene that the Kansas faithful know all too well.

March is the time when all weakness will be exposed at some point. A team that can't guard the perimeter will find them self matched with a hot shooter at some point. A team that relies on scoring in the paint, but fails to combine that with outside shooting will face double and triple teams. It is what produces the tournament madness.

This game between No. 2 seed Kansas and No. 10 seed Purdue became one of the most interesting matchups of the tournament. Kansas weaknesses matched head-to-head with the strengths of the senior-led Boilermakers. As the game continued into the second half, it appeared all that remained of Kansas was a noticeable desperate will to win.

Tyshawn Taylor slams home the final basket of the game.
Tyshawn Taylor slams home the final basket of the game.Eric Francis/Getty Images

As the seconds gave way to minutes, Purdue maintained a lead. It was clear that however exposed its weaknesses had become, Kansas would fight for this one.

Just over 13 minutes to go, with starters Travis Releford and Jeff Withey on the bench due to fouls. Tyshawn Taylor made a cross-court pass to junior Elijah Johnson on the wing. Johnson, who had struggled to produce points on the night stepped up and drained a three to bring the Jayhawks within four points.

Two minutes later, Johnson pulled down an offensive rebound, and took the ball coast to coast for two more points.

As games go in March, the underdogs responded to every punch the favorites threw with another. Thomas Robinson looked slow in the last ten minutes of the game. Taylor did not have his normal impact. It was 6'4 Elijah Johnson who defended Robby Hummel after Releford received his fourth foul.

It was Elijah Johnson who provided the desperate relief of seeing the ball fall through the hoop when Kansas needed a basket.

A player that Bill Self told before the game that he could be so much better than he realised. With that confidence, Johnson raised the ball over his head, and drained a three point shot from nearly five feet beyond the line in the final minutes. That gave Kansas its first lead of the game.

He did it with a smile on his face, as Tyshawn Taylor said in the press conference following the game. Purdue playing the part of the tough minded upset makers, fought back for the lead.

OMAHA, NE - MARCH 18:  Robbie Hummel #4 of the Purdue Boilermakers reacts as he walks off of the court after they lost to the Kansas Jayhawks 63-60 during the third round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at CenturyLink Center on March 18, 2012
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

It was in this situation, with absolutely no room for a mistake, that Johnson threw a pass from halfcourt over the heads of a couple Purdue Boilermakers to the out-streched hands of Tyshawn Taylor for an alley-oop. The play was risky; it was unbelievable; it was spectacular.

There was no second-guessing on that lob, as Johnson related.

"If I was down there, I know Ty would have thrown it to me," Elijah said, stating that he believed they were the two most athletic players on the team. "I trusted him and he came up with the two points."

As the words left the mouth of Elijah Johnson, Tyshawn Taylor whispered something barely audible through the microphone. "That's my boy," he said.

"He was everywhere and involved in every play," Taylor said of Elijah Johnson. "He's been playing good and I'm sure he's gonna keep it up."

For Kansas, this was a game that proves something. It was a game that tested them and exposed their weaknesses. Most importantly, they survived it, and this was a game that they will come back to next time they are on the ropes.

It was a game that an NCAA champion must go through on the journey.