Kansas rallies, will play Kentucky for title
April 1, 2012INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
A phantom traveling call, a putback dunk, an inbounds steal, a foul-shot lane violation on an intentional miss -- the Kansas-Ohio State game had a little bit of everything.
And that was just the last 27.4 seconds.
"It certainly wasn't a pretty game," said Kansas head coach Bill Self, "not artistic at all."
But he'll take the outcome.
Thomas Robinson scored 19 points on Saturday and Kansas survived a breathless final moments to beat Ohio State, 64-62, in the Final Four and reach the NCAA title game for the second time in five years.
The Jayhawks rallied from 13 points down in the first half, took their first lead since 2-0 with under three minutes left and moved on to play Kentucky for the national championship on Monday.
Among the game's bizarre turns, Ohio State guard Aaron Craft was whistled for a lane violation when he broke from the line too early while trying to brick his second attempt off the rim with 2.9 seconds left.
The Buckeyes, caught off-guard, didn't react to Kansas inbounding the ball and were left looking around as the Jayhawks dribbled off the remaining seconds.
"They never gave up," said Jared Sullinger, the Ohio State star. "I mean, it was a great game."
Travis Releford added 15 points, including four gutsy free throws that helped Kansas (32-6) take the lead for good, while Elijah Johnson had 13 points and 10 rebounds and Tyshawn Taylor scored 10.
William Buford scored 19 to lead Ohio State (31-8) and Sullinger had 13 with 11 rebounds.
The Buckeyes -- like Kansas, a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament -- controlled the first half, took a 34-25 lead into the break, then went cold in the second half the same way North Carolina did last weekend against the Jayhawks.
Still, they clung to the lead until Releford's free throws with 2:48 remaining capped a 7-0 run and gave Kansas a slim 56-55 lead.
Then, the fireworks.
Ohio State scored four in a row, including Craft's layup after a steal for a three-point lead, but Taylor followed with a double-clutch bank shot and the final go-ahead points of the game came on Releford's free throws with 1:37 left.
Jeff Withey had seven blocks, including one that led to Johnson's layup for a 62-59 Kansas lead. Robinson stole the ball at the other end, but Withey was called for traveling to erase a Kansas bucket -- replays didn't show a clear walk.
Deshaun Thomas missed a three for Ohio State, but Withey kicked the rebound away near the baseline. Thomas missed again, but Buford crashed the net for a putback dunk that got the Buckeyes within 62-61 with 9.6 seconds left.
Taylor's free throws pushed the Kansas lead to three -- then, with a heads-up play that birthed a bone-headed move, he stole the inbounds pass and attempted a bounce pass to a streaking teammate.
The ball went out of bounds on the far side, and Kansas sent Craft to the line with 2.9 ticks left. After Craft made his first try, he leaned in to clank the second off the front of the rim, leaving the line too early.
Afterward, Ohio State coach Thad Matta admitted that his team wasn't ready to defend the inbounds pass.
Even CBS wasn't ready -- its broadcast was showing a replay while Kansas threw it in and held on to wind the final seconds off.
"Down the stretch, as this tournament goes, it comes down to making some plays," said Matta. "Give them credit -- they did a great job of finishing [while] we had the ball, had some great shots [that didn't] go in for us."
Monday's title game, also to be held at the Superdome, will pit the same two coaches from the 2008 Final against each other. In that one, Self bested John Calipari, then the Memphis coach but now at Kentucky.
"After we got it down to six points, or four, these guys have been in so many close games they just stepped up and made plays," said Self after his team shot 53.8 percent in the second half to beat Ohio State.
The Jayhawks also beat Ohio State on Dec. 10 in Lawrence, though the Buckeyes were missing Sullinger in that one. Kansas, appearing in its 14th Final Four, will play for its fourth national title on Monday.
Ohio State had leads of 7-2 and 26-13 in the first half, the latter on Thomas' layup with around six minutes remaining.
The Buckeyes shot 46.2 percent in the half and enjoyed a double-digit lead for much if it, but Kansas drew within 34-25 on Releford's buzzer-beating layup, which followed a Withey block at the other end.
The Jayhawks, no stranger to a down first half in this tournament, had nine turnovers and shot 36.7 percent in the half. Taylor attempted their first free throws of the game with 23 seconds left, making both of them.
Kansas started its comeback with a 12-2 run that spanned the first and second half.