Alone at the Top: No. 3/4 Kansas Outlasts OSU for Sole Possession of Big 12 Title
STILLWATER, Okla. – The chant started with 1:48 on the clock. “Rock Chalk” rang out when the Jayhawk fans in attendance could feel the Kansas basketball team’s sole possession of its eighth-straight Big 12 Conference title firmly in its grasp. The final horn sounded at historic Gallagher-Iba Arena Monday night with the 70-58 Kansas victory over Oklahoma State.
Ironically, the game that sealed Kansas’ (25-5, 15-2) unprecedented eighth-consecutive regular-season title never registered a big-game feel. Instead, the Jayhawks never lost their cool as they took care of business, shooting over 50 percent for the 13th time this season while allowing the Cowboys (14-16, 7-10) only four scorers all night to seal the win – and ultimately – lone rights to the Big 12 crown.
On his senior night, Keiton Page’s first three-pointer brought on a eruption from the sea of orange as the home crowd made up for the scattered empty seats around the arena. The crowd kept the noise coming, but the shot itself was quickly negated by a three of his own from Kansas’ senior guard Tyshawn Taylor to swing the early lead back to the Jayhawks. The battle of the seniors was underway.
Page, who has seen more time on the floor this season than any other Big 12 player, left it all on the floor on his Senior Night. OSU’s only senior racked up 12 of his team’s 22 points in the first period and finished with a game-high 29 points on a 10-for-19 shooting night, which included seven three-pointers.
His effort, however, was offset by a Kansas senior just one game shy of his Senior Night.
Taylor put up 11 first half points en route to a team-best 27 points on Monday night. The senior point guard tied his career-high in three-point baskets (4-for-7), on a 10-for-15 performance from the floor. His 10 field goals also tied a personal-best mark, and his 10-0 run in the second half kept the Cowboys from mounting a successful comeback.
Junior forward Thomas Robinson joined Taylor in double-digits with 17 points and 11 rebounds. His 21st double-double of the season ties him Cole Aldrich (2009) and Raef LaFrentz (1997) for third-most all-time by a Jayhawk. Fellow junior Elijah Johnson led the floor with his six assists.
For the Cowboys, Page and redshirt freshman guard Brian Williams scored all but nine points for the home team. Williams notched 20 points, including a 3-for-5 mark from beyond the arc in the second half.
In the early minutes, the Jayhawks faced the rarity of falling behind in the blocks column. The Cowboys racked up three before sophomore forward Justin Wesley collected the first one for Kansas. The blocking deficit reflected one of few KU faced nearing the midway point of the opening frame, as OSU suffered from a 3-for-12 shooting start through the first 10 minutes. Robinson and Johnson used the opportunity to convert all four free throws in consecutive possessions to climb ahead, 19-10.
After Taylor put away a layup to keep the lead at nine, Williams answered with a jumper – one of just two buckets not scored by Page through the first 13 minutes – and the KU lead narrowed, 21-14.
Senior guard Conner Teahan’s only make of the opening frame was timed wisely, hitting a long jumper at the top of the key with less than a second left on the Kansas shot clock. The buzzer beater led to back-to-back steals by both teams, until Johnson threw a bullet to Young, who dished it off to Taylor. The senior guard drew the foul and made both ensuing free-throws and the final basket of the half to send Kansas to break with the 30-22 lead.
Robinson’s jumper to kickoff the second half handed the Jayhawks their first double-digit lead of the game, while his tomahawk dunk less than two minutes later prompted a timeout from OSU head coach Travis Ford as his team fell behind, 34-22.
After holding the Cowboys scoreless through the first three minutes of the second period, Page and sophomore guard Markel Brown needed just 20 seconds to connect on back-to-back three-pointers to fuel the rally that cut the Jayhawk lead back to single-digits with 15 minutes remaining.
Despite the low score, the Jayhawks found an answer to any rallies the home team worked to put up. In the first 12 minutes of the second half, Williams and Page combined for 17 points – including five three-pointers – but Kansas held the Cowboys’ attempts at arm’s length.
Nevertheless, Page kept coming. His sixth and seventh treys of the game came less than a minute apart as he single-handedly shrank the Jayhawk lead to 60-52 until Kansas head coach, Bill Self signaled for the timeout.
It would be the last timeout the OSU alum would need as the hot-handed Taylor responded with a 10-0 run on his own following the pause, pushing the Jayhawk senior past the 20-point mark for the 10th time this season. His three-pointer with 2:07 remaining marked the final Kansas bucket of the night.
The “Rock Chalk” chant soon followed.
No. 3/4 Kansas returns home for Senior Day against Texas on Saturday, March 3 at 8 p.m. on ESPN. Since 1983-84, the Jayhawks have won 28-straight home finales, including 27-consecutive Senior Nights (in 2006-07, KU did not have a senior on the roster). KU will then play in the Big 12 Championship, March 7-10, at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. Based on its league record, KU’s first action in the Big 12 Championship will be in the quarterfinals on March 8.