When it came to stopping Kansas in winning time, Texas Tech did everything right. The Red Raiders trapped after a deep entry pass, knocked the ball out of Joel Embiid's hands and watched as it trickled unpossessed to the middle of the paint.
Sometimes, the bounces just don't go your way.
Andrew Wiggins picked up Embiid's near-turnover, took one step toward the basket and laid the ball in with 1.7 seconds remaining, as the No. 8 Jayhawks barely escaped Lubbock with a 64-63 victory over Texas Tech on Tuesday.
Texas Tech's Robert Turner had knocked down two free throws just prior to the Jayhawks' final possession, giving the Red Raiders a one-point lead. But, with one turnover-turned-accidental-assist, Kansas went off riding into the night with its fourth win in its last five.
The final play was indicative of a sterling second half from Wiggins, who scored a game-high 19 points and catalyzed the offense on a night when most of his teammates struggled from the field. Wiggins made six of his 11 shots, but the key to his second-half success was consistent aggression. Driving to the basket amid a switching Red Raiders defensive scheme, Wiggins got to the free-throw line eight times (six makes) and tied Embiid with a team-high three offensive boards.
FOX Sports' Jarret Johnson had more on Wiggins' final shot:
#KU frosh Andrew Wiggins said tonight's game winner was his first ever and that he didn't dunk because the ball slipped out of his hand...— Jarret Johnson (@JohnsonJarret) February 19, 2014
It was the type of performance most NBA scouts and Jayhawks fans have been clamoring for regularly. Wiggins' jumper, for the most part, was not working. He hit only three jump shots the entire game and was 1-of-4 from beyond the arc. But Wiggins didn't allow the misses to dictate his overall play, taking over with his rim-running and athleticism.
As the Kansas Gameday Twitter feed noted, Wiggins now holds the Jayhawks freshman record for free-throw attempts and makes:
The Jayhawks really used their athleticism as a unit to gain an edge. They took 30 free throws compared to 14 for the home Red Raiders, won the battle on the boards and stayed in the contest despite shooting 28.6 percent from beyond the arc. Wayne Selden and Naadir Tharpe combined to shoot 3-of-15 from the field, their biggest contribution being Selden's clutch three, which Tharpe assisted, to bring Kansas within one, 59-58, with 2:35 remaining.
Embiid, even amid his last-second gaffe, also had a field day taking advantage of Tubby Smith's undersized bigs. He converted six of his seven field-goal attempts and made frequent trips to the free-throw line en route to matching his career high with 18 points and eight rebounds.
Knowing the talent disadvantage, Smith employed nearly every trick in the book to keep Texas Tech in the contest. The Red Raiders worked the ball around the perimeter all game long, wasting precious seconds off the clock. Prolonging possessions worked doubly for Smith, as it resulted in both high-percentage shots for the Red Raiders and limited transition attempts for the athletic Jayhawks.
Texas Tech shot a solid 47.1 percent for the game, more than six percent better than Jayhawks opponents' season average. Forward Jordan Tolbert led the way with 16 points and six rebounds on 7-of-10 from the field, and five different Red Raiders scored in double figures.
Much of the contest felt like a perfect storm that would finally get Texas Tech over the hump against Kansas. The Big 12 standard-bearer has owned the Red Raiders during its recent run of success, but the Red Raiders were having success of their own. They had snapped a 34-game losing streak against top-25 teams with their win over Baylor on Jan. 15 and added a now-infamous triumph over Oklahoma State earlier this month.
Despite digging themselves into a deep hole in the first half, Smith's squad consistently fired back. Texas Tech was down by as many as seven at multiple points in the first 20 minutes, but a quick Dejan Kravic-led run allowed the Raiders to go into halftime down just 30-29.
A Robert Turner jumper to open the second half put Texas Tech ahead early, sparking what would prove to be a consistent one-possession lead down the stretch. The lead never topped more than five points, as Kansas made key baskets when it needed, but you could feel United Spirit Arena rocking and ready to charge the floor.
Wiggins and Embiid made sure it wasn't to be.
Escaping with victory is a major relief for the Jayhawks—and not just for avoiding the indignity of losing to an unranked opponent. Iowa State's 85-76 win over Texas on Tuesday gives Kansas a two-game lead in the Big 12, an especially important advantage with the Longhorns visiting Lawrence on Saturday.
That said, both teams will come into the clash feeling like they have a ton of work to do. Kansas is leaving its trip to Lubbock with a notch in the win column, but the problems the Raiders exposed could give Rick Barnes a blueprint to put his team back in the conference-title race.
As previously noted, Kansas (20-6, 11-2 Big 12) will host the No. 19 Longhorns (20-6, 9-4 Big 12) this weekend. Texas Tech will try to earn a season sweep of Oklahoma State earlier that same afternoon.
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