Kansas snaps three-game losing skid, regains first-place tie in Big 12

Release from KUAthletics.com:

LAWRENCE, Kan. — A birthday-present worthy performance from redshirt freshman Ben McLemore and a historical milestone for senior Jeff Withey topped the list of highlights featured in Kansas’ lopsided 83-62 win against in-state rival Kansas State on ESPN’s Big Monday.

For the first time in more than 30 years, No. 10/11 Kansas State (19-5, 8-3) came to Allen Fieldhouse ranked higher than No. 14/13 Kansas (20-4, 8-3). On Feb. 20, 1982, Kansas was receiving votes, while Kansas State was No. 18 and left with the 63-53 victory. The visitors from Manhattan, Kan., were unable to repeat on Monday night. After scoring the game’s first points, the Wildcats wouldn’t lead for the rest of the contest.

Kansas took its recent offensive frustrations out on its rivals, chalking up 47 points in the opening half, KU’s most in conference play this season. The Jayhawks shot 59 percent in the opening 20 minutes and 48.3 percent for the game (28-for-58) to defeat KSU for the 11th time in their last 12 meetings and snapping their first three-game losing streak since the 2005 season.

Not only did Kansas reclaim a share of the Big 12 lead, Withey swatted his record-breaking block before the first media timeout, recording his 259th career block at the 16:28 mark. The senior center finished the night with five – and 263 for his career – passing Greg Ostertag’s 258 for the most blocked shots in Kansas basketball history. The senior from San Diego, Calif., ended his historic evening with his eighth double-double of the year, tallying 17 points and 10 rebounds.

The prestigious record shared the spotlight with birthday boy,Ben McLemore. The redshirt freshman turned 20 on Monday and in the first half alone, McLemore racked up 17 points, missing only one field goal while sinking three treys and all four free throws. His big night saw him total 30 points, his most since chalking up his career-high 33 points against Iowa State, on 9-for-13 shooting, including six three-pointers to tie his career high.

McLemore became the first player in Kansas history to rack up two 30-point games in conference play. Jayhawk legend Danny Manning also surpassed the 30-point mark twice as a freshman, but only one was in league play.

Doing the dishing was sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe, who posted eight assists for his most in a Big 12 game. Senior forwardKevin Young was a rebound shy of a double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds, while fellow senior Travis Relefordcontributed 10 points and four rebounds. Kansas dominated on the glass, outrebounding the Wildcats, 41-23.

Kansas State senior guard and leading scorer Rodney McGruder, who racked up 40 points on 54 percent shooting in his last two outings combined, was held to a single bucket in the first half. In fact, the Wildcats didn’t a have scorer in double-figures until sophomore Angel Rodriguez did so in the opening minutes of the second half.

McGruder didn’t stay quiet for long, finding his groove in the second half and leading all Wildcat scorers with 20 points. Rodriguez finished with 17, while sophomore big man Thomas Gipson fouled out without scoring.

The first buckets of the game were nothing short of a dead sprint, setting the tone for a high-tempo game suitable for the intense rivalry. A pair of layups for both sides got the game off and running before Releford drilled the first three of the game. Junior guard Will Spradling immediately answered with a three on the other end, but it was Kansas that kept sprinting.

Pressuring early, Kansas forced the Wildcats to miss nine of their first 12 shots. The Jayhawks took full advantage, jolting out to an 11-3 run midway through the first half. Back-to-back dunks from Young and Withey, followed by a three from McLemore forced a Bruce Weber timeout as KU surged ahead, 21-10.

On the heels of McLemore’s second three of the game, the Jayhawks were outshooting the Wildcats 61 to 31 percent as they watched their lead skyrocket. Under the final media timeout of the first half, McLemore’s made free throws pushed Kansas over the 20-point margin for the first of many times on Monday. Rattled, KSU returned to its end of the floor where a broken play resulted in a pass sailing directly out of bounds.

Junior guard Shane Southwell tried to break the Jayhawk momentum with a late three pointer, but a well-executed play from sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe to Young gave KU an easy bucket under the basket as time expired. Kansas took a 47-29 lead to half. After three-straight games of trailing at halftime, the Jayhawks came back with its largest halftime lead in conference play.

The second half saw no sign of slowing down for the Kansas offense, who came out firing at a 50 percent clip. Again Weber asked for the timeout, with his team trailing 63-43, but it did little to slow the Jayhawks.

McLemore’s fifth three-pointer propelled the home team to its largest lead of the night, 75-50, all but breaking the Wildcats with eight minutes remaining.

Late free throws from seniors Elijah Johnson and Withey coasted the Jayhawks into the final minute and McLemore added one more three to seal the deal at 83-62.

UP NEXT
No. 14/13 Kansas will stay in Lawrence and welcome the Texas Longhorns to Allen Fieldhouse for ESPN College Gameday, Saturday at 8 p.m.