LUBBOCK, Texas — In the epitome of crunch time, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid seemingly swapped roles. Trailing by one, Wiggins came up with a crucial block, sending the Jayhawks back to their goal where Embiid provided the clutch basket. But – as No. 8 Kansas clung to a 64-63 win at Texas Tech Tuesday night inside the United Spirit Arena – they switched back.
Down to the last two seconds before the upset, Wiggins was Wiggins. He saved a broken pass and found the basket for the game-winning layup. Kansas picked up its 20th win for the 25th-straight season with just 1.7 seconds to spare.
No. 8/8 Kansas (20-6, 11-2 Big 12) had already wrapped up the home and away season series with four different conference teams before squaring off against Texas Tech (13-13, 5-8 Big 12) for the first time in 2013-14. The wait was worth it as the Tubby Smith-led Red Raiders showed off their much-improved skillset, leading all but five minutes of the second half and forcing 13 lead changes against the Jayhawks before the visiting team sealed the win in the last possible second, disappointing a record-setting student crowd.
Wiggins led all scorers with 19 points, adding six rebounds, two steals and a major pair of blocks. His seven-foot sidekick was right behind him, adding 18 points and eight rebounds on 6-of-7 shooting. When nagging injuries held Embiid out of the starting lineup against TCU for the first time since December, the Jayhawk center made up for lost time in his return. He chalked up three of the first four Jayhawk baskets and tied the KU freshman block record barely five minutes into the game. His 62 blocks this season tie former standout Eric Chenowith for the most by a Jayhawk freshman.
The Jayhawk duo were KU’s only players in double-figures as the team tallied a conference season-low with 19 field goals on a season-low six assists. While Texas Tech started the night as the Big 12’s best free throw shooters, it was Kansas that benefitted the most at the line thanks to aggressive drives to the basket. In fact, after an 8-of-19 performance in the second half from the floor, KU relied heavily on its 17-for-21 free throwing shooting in the final 20 minutes. The Jayhawks ended the game hitting 19-of-42 shots (45.2 percent) and 22-for-30 from the line (73.3 percent), while Tech finished 24-for-51 from the floor (47.1 percent) and just 9-for-14 from the line (64.3 percent).
In stark contrast to the Jayhawk leaderboard, five different Red Raiders put up double-figures, led by junior forward Jordan Tolbert’s 16 points and six rebounds. Senior forward Dejan Kravic followed him with 13 points.
What looked to be the start of a blowout, junior guard Naadir Tharpe kicked off his night with a trey from the top of the key. Wiggins and freshman guard Wayne Selden, Jr., each had threes to their credit before the second media timeout as Kansas charged forward, 17-10. Though KU would go on to lead by as much as 10 points, it was anything but a blowout.
Five minutes into the game, TTU had yet to record a rebound of any kind, but that trend was short lived as the Red Raiders started giving themselves multiple scoring opportunities. Back-to-back offensive boards allowed Jaye Crockett the chance to hit his second three-pointer of the game, cutting the Jayhawk lead to 23-19.
A cooled-shooting effort on both sides helped keep the Jayhawks in front. After hitting six of their first nine, the Jayhawks made just four of their next 12 shots. At the same time, Tech started 5-of-10 from the floor, but connected on only two of the next eight to maintain distance between the two teams.
Kravic’s three-point play restarted the offense with two minutes remaining in the half as teammate Dusty Hannahs followed suit with a three-pointer of his own, cutting the KU lead to a single point. Ignoring the loudest crowd heard in the United Spirit Arena in recent meetings, freshman guard Frank Mason knocked down a pair of free throws to extend the lead back to three. Kravic again stopped KU momentum with a late layup that sent the Jayhawks to halftime with a slim 30-29 lead.
Looking for its sixth win in Big 12 play for the first time since 2008, the Red Raiders came out of the break on a mission. Their 8-2 run, thanks to four-straight makes, saw the Jayhawks fall to its largest deficit of the game. Down 37-32, Kansas used a timeout.
The pause was welcomed. Embiid surpassed double-figures when he completed the three-point play and Wiggins sank both free throws to tie the score in less than a minute – setting up an intense final stretch.
Known for using the most of its shot clock, Tech made it work in its favor all night. Kansas put up a strong defensive stand, fending off a late three-pointer, only to surrender the offensive rebound that gave Hannahs the room to shoot another. This time he connected. Moments later, Jamal Williams drained the clock before nailing his only trey of the night. While the Jayhawks stayed within two, 45-43, they had to do so from the free throw line. A weak 2-for-7 start from the floor meant KU had no choice but to be hot from the charity stripe, hitting 9-of-10 through the first eight minutes.
Tech maxed out its foul count quickly, giving Kansas the chance to close in with bonus trips to the line. It wasn’t pretty, but they counted. Free throws from Tharpe and Wiggins gave KU its first lead of more than a single point of the second half, 53-51. The 6:27 still remaining, however, gave off anything but a comfortable feeling.
While the Red Raiders surged about 50 percent shooting in the second stanza, the Jayhawks were desperate for a basket. Selden broke the Jayhawks’ three-point drought with a three-pointer with 2:35 to play, cutting the TTU lead to a single point, 59-58. Though Tech kept pace as the teams traded baskets – Wiggins and the Jayhawks were the last ones standing, 64-63.
Kansas will host Texas on Saturday, Feb. 22, at 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU and Oklahoma in its fourth ESPN Big Monday appearance of 2013-14 on Feb. 24 at 8 p.m. KU will travel to Oklahoma State on March 1 at 8 p.m. on ESPN. ESPN College Gameday will originate from Stillwater that day.
#8/8 KANSAS 64, TEXAS TECH 63
Feb. 18, 2014
KU STARTERS (Season/Career Starts): Jr. Naadir Tharpe (23/23), Fr. Wayne Selden, Jr. (26/26), Fr. Andrew Wiggins (26/26), So. Perry Ellis (26/29), Fr. Joel Embiid (17/17)
SERIES INFO: Kansas leads 26-4
ATTENDANCE: 12,667 (capacity 15,098)