No. 3/2 Kansas Takes Round One, Wins at No. 11/13 Kansas State, 59-55

Jan. 22, 2013

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MANHATTAN, Kan. — Senior center Jeff Withey’s seventh double-double of the year led the Kansas men’s basketball team past Kansas State, 59-55, in the first installment of this year’s Sunflower Showdown series, Tuesday night inside Bramlage Coliseum.

The last unbeaten teams in the Big 12 Conference, No. 3/2 Kansas (17-1, 5-0) outdueled No. 11/13 Kansas State (15-3, 4-1) in a gritty matchup for the early lead in the conference race. Working around a season-low 59 points, KU held the Wildcats to 35 percent shooting (20-for-57) on their home floor to chalk up its 16th-consecutive win.

Fittingly for an in-state rivalry, the home crowd produced the Jayhawks’ toughest road environment thus far, and despite both teams combining to miss their first seven shots, the energy and pace soared from tip-off. Kansas achieved a double-digit lead only once, but trailed just twice in the win.

Two of the Big 12’s top-three scorers in Kansas’ Ben McLemore and Kansas State’s Rodney McGruder squared off Tuesday night, but neither carried much weight in the first half. The duo scored just two points apiece in the opening 20 minutes due to two quick fouls putting McLemore on the bench. McGruder was overshadowed by teammates Angel Rodriguez and Shane Southwell, who combined for 21 of KSU’s 27 first-half points.

By game’s end, however, McLemore had tallied 11 points on 57 percent shooting (4-for-7), while McGruder ended with 13 points (4-for-12).

Withey matched McLemore’s output with 11 points, but grabbed 10 rebounds for his seventh double-double, the second-most in the Big 12. Senior guard Travis Releford led the team with 12 points, missing only one of his six shots. Senior guard Elijah Johnson and freshman forward Perry Elliseach chipped in eight points.

Joining McGruder in double-digits, Rodriguez added 12 points and Southwell led all scorers with 19. After the duo racked up 21 points in the first frame, Kansas held them to 10 in the second half – all from Southwell.

After the Wildcats notched the first bucket of the game, Kansas broke free for a 9-3 run using a three from Releford. Another long ball from Johnson kicked the lead out a point further by the second media timeout, 15-8.

Johnson, making three of his first five shots, sent Kansas on a mini 5-0 run. The rally took a backseat, however, to McLemore getting whistled for his second charge call with more than nine minutes still remaining in the opening half. Shortly after the rookie guard was relegated to the bench with early foul trouble, the Wildcats caught fire to turn an 18-10 Kansas lead into their one-point advantage with six minutes to play, 19-18.

Unyielding to the shift in momentum, a Kansas timeout quickly sparked a 9-2 Kansas run. Releford’s second three of the evening and a shot-clock beating jumper from sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe powered the rally and returned the lead to the Jayhawks, 27-21. Kansas State would not lead again.

With Southwell and Rodriguez still sinking shots as the break approached, Young battled under the basket to grab an offensive rebound the last possession, converting it to a layup and the Jayhawks took a 31-27 lead to halftime.

Kansas came out focused for the second half, hitting all three shots and all four free throws in the first five minutes to up the lead, 39-30. Releford missed his first – and only – shot of the game, but took little time to return to form as he drove to the basket for a layup to keep his team ahead by five.

The five-point margin stayed fairly consistent for the remainder of the game until McLemore kicked into higher gear with seven-straight Kansas points. Moments after drilling a three in front of his own bench, McLemore benefitted from textbook ball movement in KU’s next possession, which peaked with him receiving the ball on the wing. He obliged with a made jumper, pushing the Jayhawks to their only double-digit lead of the game, 53-43.

Kansas State kept clawing back. Southwell hit back-to-back three-pointers to help bring the home team within five, 54-49, under the last media timeout. With plenty of time for a comeback still on the clock, sophomore forward Thomas Gipson muscled in for a bucket under the basket and Southwell converted a steal into an uncontested layup on the other end to cut the KU lead to three with 37 seconds to play, 56-53.

Tharpe faced a hostile crowd as he stepped to the free-throw line with 22 seconds to play, but he sunk them both. Johnson added one more to seal the 59-55 victory.

No. 3/2 Kansas returns home Saturday, Jan. 26 against Oklahoma at 3 p.m. on ESPN. The game will be the annual Suits and Sneakers contest promoting cancer awareness and is sponsored by the NABC’s Coaches vs. Cancer program. The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.