No. 4/5 Kansas Completes Sunflower Showdown Sweep, 59-53
MANHATTAN, Kan. – For the second time this season, junior center Jeff Witheymissed a triple-double by a single block to lead No. 4/5 Kansas to a season sweep of Sunflower Showdown rival Kansas State, 59-53, on ESPN Big Monday at Bramlage Coliseum.
With the Kansas (21-5, 11-2) lead cut to four, less than a minute remaining and a sold-out crowd against him, Withey was the definition of clutch. He blocked two shots in two Wildcat possessions to send the ball back to KU, allowing junior forward Thomas Robinsonthe room to increase the lead to six with a pair of free throws. The Jayhawks would hang on to the six-point margin for the win.
The late blocks marked Withey’s eighth and ninth of the evening, adding to his 18 points and 11 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the year. For the second time in 2011-12, Withey recorded nine blocks – the second most in Kansas history (Cole Aldrich, 10, vs. Dayton, 3/22/09).
Senior Tyshawn Taylorjoined Withey as a primary difference maker in Monday night’s contest. The floor general put up 20 points and five assists, tying KSU’s Jamar Samuels as the leading scorer. Robinson came up one rebound shy of his 19th double-double of the year, contributing 10 points and nine rebounds.
For the Wildcats (17-8, 6-7), Samuels scored all but seven of his team’s points in the first frame and led KSU with 20 points, his first 20-point game of the year.
In the rivals’ first meeting (1/4/12), Kansas grabbed its highest rebounding mark of the season (50-26). In their final meeting of the regular season, Kansas was outrebounded the league’s top-rebounding team, 39-45.
That stood to be the most noteworthy advantage. As Kansas went on to hold Kansas State to its season’s lowest field-goal percentage (22.6) and scoring output (18) in a half in the opening frame. In the final 20 minutes, KSU outscored the Jayhawks 35-31, but couldn’t overcome the visiting Jayhawks.
Junior guard Elijah Johnsonand Samuels traded three-point buckets to kick start both offenses in the opening minutes. Five-straight points from Taylor pushed the Jayhawks to the quick 11-5 lead. As both teams swiped passes from one another – all five KU starters recorded steals for the first time in Big 12 play – Kansas benefitted more from the fast tempo. By night’s end, the Jayhawks finished the night with a lofty 14-2 advantage in fast break points.
Regardless of pace, neither team could get could hot from the floor in the early minutes. Under the eight-minute mark both teams were shooting less than 30 percent with only five made field goals apiece. Set on reversing the trend, junior guard Travis Relefordand Withey hit consecutive baskets to break open a 9-2 run and carry KU into the final media break with a 25-14 edge.
While it was on Kansas’ starters to do all of the scoring in the opening half, the defense came at KSU with balanced force. The Jayhawks held its rival to a season low point total (18) and field-goal percentage (22.6) in a half to take a 28-18 lead into halftime.
After KU held Will Spradling, one of two Wildcats to average in double figures, scoreless in the first half, he and Samuels combined for 10 points to spark a 12-4 Wildcat run to open the second half.
Withey came up big again, blocking an attempt by junior Rodney McGruder and converting it with a dunk on the other end of the floor to break up the Kansas State momentum. Back-to-back layups from junior forward Jordan Henriquez, however, tied the score at 34-34, the first time Kansas had relinquished its lead since the 17:48 mark in the first half. Less than three minutes later, Thomas Gibson’s free throw spotted KSU its first lead since the same mark, 37-36.
Taylor took it from there – firing off consecutive three-pointers to swing the Kansas lead back to five, 42-37, midway through the second half. As he has through much of the conference season, the senior provided a vital second-half spark, scoring 12 of his 20 points in the final frame.
Following a dunk from Taylor, Withey rattled off six-straight points to keep pace with a rallying home team. Samuels knocked down a crucial three with less than two minutes to play, while McGruder’s runner in the lane cut the lead to four with a minute remaining, 55-51.
Although McGruder hit a long jumper after Withey’s late blocks to again amp up the last-second drama, senior guard Conner Teahanmade KU’s only points from the bench count. He hit both free throws with six seconds left to seal the 59-53 win.
No. 4/5 Kansas will host Texas Tech on Saturday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m. on the Big 12 Network. The Jayhawks will then travel to Texas A&M on Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 8 p.m. on ESPN2 before returning home to host Missouri on Saturday, Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. on CBS.