No. 9 Kansas outlasted No. 14 Oklahoma State 68-67 on the road in double overtime Wednesday night, avenging an 85-80 loss from earlier this season and taking control of the Big 12 race.
The road win caps off an impressive three-game winning streak that started with home routes of in-state rival Kansas State and Texas. It also officially puts that three-game losing skid at the beginning of February completely in the rearview mirror.
It was a bad eight days for Kansas, but an eight-day stretch that ultimately will not carry any significant weight moving forward for the Jayhawks.
Now, all they must do is finish strong to try and lock up a top two seed in the NCAA tournament, preferably playing in the South Region in Arlington, Texas.
One thing is for sure: For better or worse, March will be a grind for the Jayhawks.
When they win, chances are it won’t be pretty. That was demonstrated Wednesday night when Kansas beat Oklahoma State despite not making a field goal in either overtime until Naadir Tharpe’s game-winner in the lane with 16 seconds remaining in double overtime.
The game was so entertaining that Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk tweeted this near the end of the first overtime:
We really don't need a second overtime here, Kansas. We really, really don't.— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) February 21, 2013
When or if the Jayhawks lose, it definitely won’t be pretty, which was perfectly demonstrated in the loss at TCU. The Jayhawks shot just 29.8 percent from the field in that game.
Kansas still has a myriad of offensive issues, point guard play still sitting at the forefront. Elijah Johnson and Tharpe are who they are at this point. Those two will make plays and decisions that will drive Jayhawk fans crazy, as Tharpe did for the majority of the overtimes. However, as Tharpe’s late heroics Wednesday showed, they will also make plays that will bring Kansas fans to their feet.
Ben McLemore is supremely talented, but he has a tendency to defer too much for someone of his ability. He isn’t the type of player who routinely creates offense for himself. Wednesday at Oklahoma State, McLemore did not attempt a shot in the final 4:29 of regulation and first 4:18 of overtime before firing up an airball from the right corner.
Fortunately for Kansas, its defense has the ability to cover up a lot of those mistakes. The Jayhawks can win a game where they are minus-seven in the turnover column and McLemore goes 3-of-12 from the field, which was the case at Oklahoma State.
Jeff Withey has a lot to do with that. He has been a consistent force for Kanas down low, even during the losing skid. Bill Self can always count on Withey to protect the rim while being efficient on the offensive end.
Withey was the biggest reason Kansas was able to pull off the road win Wednesday night. He had 17 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks, making 11-of-14 from the free-throw line.
For Kansas to have the kind of success it wants, it will need its senior frontcourt players in Withey, Kevin Young and Travis Releford to be the constants, leading the way as the Jayhawks grind their way through March.
Then, Self will have to hope that Johnson, McLemore and Tharpe can make enough plays down the stretch to ultimately come out on top.
It will be a gut-wrenching ride for Jayhawk fans, but one that certainly could pay off big in Atlanta in April, seemingly light-years away from what happened in early February.