Michigan freshman gets best of Withey
- Mar. 30, 2013
- 2 Comments
ARLINGTON, Texas – Senior Jeff Withey sat at his locker, trying to explain what happened, how a team that starts four seniors and won 31 games and a ninth Big 12 title could let a 14-point lead evaporate in the final seven minutes of regulation and let a 10-point lead go in the final three minutes.
There’s plenty of explanation for what happened. Michigan point guard Trey Burke finished the first half with zero points, then exploded for 23 points in the second half and overtime. Freshman forward Mitch McGary, making his fifth career start, scored 25 points, corralled 14 rebounds and converted 12-of-17 shots.
Kansas committed costly turnovers in the final four minutes that led to seven Michigan points, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 12 seconds remaining in the second half and questionably passed up scoring opportunities.
No explanation, though, will change the fact that none of the Jayhawks’ accomplishments turned this season into a great one. Kansas fell at least two victories short of that.
“We had a chance to be great, and that’s what’s going to hurt is definitely slipping up with four minutes left,” senior center Jeff Withey said. “It’s just tough. I don’t know. It’s sad.”
Playing in what proved to be his final collegiate game, Withey established a low-post presence in the first half, and he and McGary engaged in a chess match on the block. McGary looked for ways to get around Withey’s length, and Withey searched for ways to exploit his height advantage over the freshman.
Early in the game, senior guard Elijah Johnson hit McGary’s midsection as he tried to get around a screen McGary set for Trey Burke. The officials saddled Johnson with a flagrant-one foul, but McGary missed both free throws and then couldn’t convert a jumper in the lane over Withey, who promptly connected on a short jumper over McGary.
Later, Withey hit a turnaround fadeaway jumper over McGary to give Kansas a 10-point lead. Burke promptly paraded down the court, pulling Withey away from McGary. Burke deftly sent the ball to McGary who slammed home two points before Withey could recover.
“We knew that Burke was going to drive in and pass the ball,” Withey said. “Whenever Burke drove into the lane, I was there to usually contest his shot, so we wanted to take away the corner threes more than him driving to the basket.”
The first half battle was nearly even. Both players had five rebounds. McGary had 11 points compared to Withey’s eight, but the senior connected on all four of his field goal attempts and had two blocks compared to McGary’s one.
Thanks to Burke’s second half explosion, Kansas slowly lost its momentum down low. Burke, who was held scoreless in the first half, finally found his rhythm, and ended regulation with 18 points and 10 assists. He coupled with McGary to frequently execute the pick-and-roll, and Withey had trouble keeping McGary from getting open after rolling out of the screen.
“That’s such a tough guard for Jeff when you got a guy that screens and rolls the basket and you put four shooters around him,” coach Bill Self said. “I thought we would do a better job defending the five-one ball screen, but we didn’t.”
On the offensive end, McGary forced Withey into awkward, out-of-position jumpers in the second half, and Withey could only muster four points on 2-7 shooting and two blocks. McGary, meanwhile, went 5-8 in the second half and registered 10 points and seven rebounds. The Jayhawks’ four big men combined for 10 rebounds total in the second half.
McGary and Burke’s second-half duet rivaled those of Baylor’s Pierre Jackson and Cory Jefferson and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Markel Brown when those two teams defeated Kansas earlier in the season.
Kansas was able to counter with freshman guard Ben McLemore for the first and only time this tournament, as he converted four 3-pointers, shot 8-15 from the field and scored 20 points. His first 3-pointer of the tournament came midway through the first half and ended Kansas’ string of 22 consecutive points in the paint to begin the game.
He scored 10 points in under four minutes during one stretch of the second half and said he “felt like the regular Ben,” but he picked up his third foul with 10 minutes remaining in regulation.
McLemore didn’t score again, and when he picked up his fourth foul with 8:39 remaining, his night was finished offensively. He took only one more shot the rest of the game, a layup that he couldn’t get to drop.
“We know who we’re guarding, and he ran to Burke, and Travis is guarding Burke, and it left (Michigan guard Tim) Hardaway, and then he goes and fouls him on the drive,” Self said. “It was a bad play, but it did slow him down.”
McLemore said he hasn’t made a decision about whether he will enter the NBA Draft or stay in school. If he does leave, Kansas will lose all five of its starters for the first time since winning the 2008 NCAA title.
“I hate to have it go down like this,” freshman forward Perry Ellis said. “It’s just sad. I really wanted to help them just push farther, but we just fell short.”