Last-second play seals Kansas’ fate in overtime loss to Michigan
- Mar. 30, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas — When it came down to it, when the Jayhawks had their last shot to perform a miracle and send Cowboys Stadium into a crimson and blue frenzy, Kansas coach Bill Self put it to a vote.
The Jayhawks had been in this situation plenty of times before: late in the game, clock winding down and a decision to make. The routine wasn’t going to change.
It was time to move past the fact that Michigan erased a 12-point deficit with just over six minutes left. There was nothing more Kansas could do about Trey Burke’s 28-foot 3-pointer that tied the game with a handful of tics remaining.
With Kansas down 87-85, pure democracy was the only option.
So Self gathered his four seniors and posed the question:
Do you want to go for the tie or the win?
The ballots were unanimous.
“Whenever your season comes down to one possession,” Jeff Withey said. “Why tie and go into another overtime?”
As 9.4 seconds remained on the clock, Elijah Johnson started up the left side and set the final play into action as he stepped past half court.
Jeff Withey ran up top to provide a fake screen while Johnson cut to his right, looking to drive into the lane.
There was no pressure from Michigan on Johnson. He was coasting around like the gym was empty, seemingly on pure muscle memory. And at that point it really was.
“It’s a play we run all the time,” Kevin Young said. “Almost every time we ran it it’s worked.”
The moment didn’t appear to faze the Jayhawks either.
Three times this season, Kansas had fought through an extra frame, each time pulling out a victory and each time with a different hero.
Ben McLemore’s bank shot against Iowa State, Withey’s dominance down low against Oklahoma State and Johnson’s unconscious shooting in a rematch with the Cyclones.
If anything, it was a moment Kansas had been primed for. If anything, you would think the Wolverines didn’t want to go another five minutes with this Kansas team.
“We weren’t shook,” Young said. “We’ve played in close games before. We just tried to stay confident and keep attacking.”
And Johnson was attacking.
He had blown by every Michigan defender that had come his way as he glided into the lane and suddenly all that separated Kansas from defeat was a poorly contested layup.
Although the Jayhawks will admit they did let up towards the end of regulation. Kansas had been up my as many as 14 points in the second half.
Even with Michigan’s Burke starting to heat up, the Jayhawks had been able to control him all game. Keeping him silent for a few more minutes didn’t seem to be an impossible task until it was.
After holding Burke to 0-4 shooting and five assists in the first half he exploded in the final minutes and finished with 23 points.
“It was crunch time and he showed up,” Withey said. “That’s what great players do.”
Still Kansas didn’t have to worry about Burke’s shooting at the moment; Johnson was floating up to the rim with a second overtime in sight.
Travis Releford was the only help down below if there was a rebound, but he had been boxed out. This had to be the shot, like it or not, and it had to go down.
That just wasn’t how Johnson saw it.
As the ball was ready to roll off his fingertips and carom off the backboard Johnson contorted his body and fired a crosscourt pass toward an open, albeit far away, Naadir Tharpe.
“I wasn’t expecting to get it,” Tharpe said. “I guess he didn’t feel like he had an angle to shoot it.”
As erratic of a pass as it was, Tharpe reached back and grabbed it with one hand, and was open enough to move closer to the 3-point line.
At most there were four steps, but the clock was only counting milliseconds and defenders were closing all around him.
Tharpe never had an opportunity to set himself for the shot. He had to shoot the ball.
Yet the off-balance heave still had a chance as it clanked off the backboard high and hit the rim.
It just wasn’t the right part of the iron, which became evident as the ball fell back down to earth with the weight of a fan base guiding it.
“The call was just let Elijah make a play,” Withey said.
But it wasn’t the one the Kansas fans wanted.
As Johnson hung in the air, stuck in the moment just long enough to think about it, it was clear he was never going to play for double overtime.
“I could have taken the shot,” Johnson admitted. “I passed up a shot to try and get a better one.”
The team had decided they were going for the win and this was the way they chose to go out.