Ben McLemore Becomes Clutch for Kansas

Max GoodwinContributor IIIJanuary 10, 2013

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 09:  Ben McLemore #23 of the Kansas Jayhawks is congratulated by fans after the Jayhawks defeated the Iowa State Cyclones 97-89 to win the game at Allen Fieldhouse on January 9, 2013 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Nobody can deny that Ben McLemore imprinted his will upon a Big 12 game like no other freshman in the Bill Self era.

Iowa State pushed No.6 Kansas to its limit Wednesday night at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks responded in a way that many questioned they could in this situation. Ben McLemore stepped up with big shots at a time when everybody looked to him.

That includes senior Elijah Johnson, who received the ball with under five seconds on the clock and Kansas trailing by three points, but couldn't find an open look. Senior Travis Releford set a screen, freeing McLemore. The freshman caught the ball behind the three-point line and launched a shot that appeared to be floating off target before kissing off the glass.

Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg's heart sank as the ball dropped through the hoop.

“As it left his hand I said, ‘We got it,’” Hoiberg said. “It looked like it was off to the left and it banks in.”

There may be an argument as to who is the best freshman in the nation; maybe it's Anthony Bennett, Marcus Smart or Shabazz Muhammad. Their stats can be compared, their skills analyzed.

This is what we know: No other freshman made a shot as big as the one McLemore dropped in to keep the streak of 30 straight wins at Allen Fieldhouse alive for Kansas. It was the end of a two-minute run when McLemore scored nine points to propel Kansas back from a six-point deficit to Iowa State.

What remains uncertain (depending on who you ask) is what exactly McLemore's intentions were as he released the biggest shot so far of his highly anticipated freshman season.

“When it left my hand,” McLemore said. “I actually kind of called bank.”

His coach, Bill Self, disagreed.

"Travis set a great screen and Ben was fortunate," Self said, "because he didn't call glass, I'm sure."

Either way, the shot forced overtime, which felt like it was over before it began, thanks to the momentum Kansas carried to a 97-88 victory.

Either way, it was the bank off the backboard that hurt so badly for Hoiberg.

"I wish it would have swished," the Iowa State coach said. "I would feel better about myself right now if that didn't bank in."

Travis Releford said that in his five years at Kansas, he hasn't seen any player take over a game in the clutch as Ben McLemore did against Iowa State. Whatever McLemore meant for that final shot of regulation, it was a sign of the player he can be for Kansas.

The play that Kansas ran in an attempt to push the game to overtime is one that has been seen a few times before from Bill Self teams. It is the play that got Mario the shot to force overtime in the 2008 National Championship game. The play is known as "Chop".

In those desperate moments for the Jayhawks, when McLemore took the game over and let it be known that the outcome would be on his shoulders, doing what his coach told him in practice: that he needed to be more aggressive. He needed to take more shots.

McLemore still scored 33 points on just 12 shots from the field against Iowa State. Self still said McLemore needed to shoot more. The freshmen said he was thinking about this as the Jayhawks ran the play that had failed them earlier in the season. That seems to speak so positively for his potential—he was thinking about correcting his mistakes.

When Kansas ran the Chop play in a loss against Michigan State in Atlanta, McLemore did not move to the right spot on the floor to get away from the defense; it was Releford who missed that final shot. That shot caused some to wonder whether Kansas had a clutch shooter this season who we could all expect to take those shots.

McLemore used the pass from Elijah Johnson and the screen from Travis Releford perfectly this time.

The bank is not what defined that shot. It was that Ben McLemore that released it, and that the ball would, eventually, drop through the net.