ST. LOUIS, Mo. — The worst sound wasn’t the opposing crowd or even the clanging of the rim of second-seeded Kansas’ missed shots. Although both debilitating, the worst was a whistle blown with 5:25 to play, forcing the game’s leading scorer – senior Tarik Black – to the bench for his last time as a Jayhawk. Even with freshman guard Conner Frankamp’s heroics following his exit,10th-seeded Stanford ended KU’s season, 60-57, Sunday morning inside the Scottrade Center.
Kansas (25-10) and Stanford (23-12) certainly looked like a pair of teams unaccustomed to early tip times in the Third Round South Regional game. The 11:15 a.m. start marked just the third time in 35 games that the Jayhawks started before 1 p.m., while the Cardinal took the floor to what equated to 9:15 a.m. in its usual time zone. Though start time had little to do with the outcome, what ensued was the Jayhawks’ second-lowest field goal total of the season (19) and its lowest scoring output in the NCAA Tournament since falling to UCLA 68-55 in the 2007 Elite Eight.
Sentenced to play the NCAA Second and Third Round games without Joel Embiid, the Big 12 Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, Black proudly wore the leadership role as the young team’s only starting senior. He led the floor with 18 points on 75 percent shooting, and had his team within two before his forced departure. KU would never lead again.
Freshman guard Conner Frankamp joined Black in double-figures with 12 points, and even more so as a spark for Kansas. One game after scoring a personal-best 10 points in KU’s second round contest against Eastern Kentucky, head coach Bill Self used the rookie guard as a source of offensive fire power against the Cardinal, as well. He hit a career-high four three-pointers to set a new personal-best with 12 points.
Frankamp, too, gave a valiant effort. The last five seconds of the first half ticked away when the six-foot shooting specialist knocked the ball away from Stanford’s Anthony Brown. Time was running out and Frankamp refused to waste it. He pulled up from behind the arc and driled his second three. After waiting nearly a game and a half for their first three-pointer in St. Louis, Frankamp made two of them in the last four minutes to send the Jayhawks to the lockerroom with a 24-22 lead. For the 25th time this season, Kansas led at the half. Stanford was the third, and last, team of the year to turnaround the outcome.
Even in the final minutes, following Black’s dismissal from the game, Frankamp broke up a crippling Kansas scoring drought that saw the Jayhawks sink to a 58-51 deficit with 32 seconds to play. His third three cut the Stanford lead to four. His fourth sparked all hope of a comeback, pulling KU within two, 59-57, with 16 seconds to play.
Frankamp’s shooting touch brought the Jayhawks as close as they could get on a day that saw them make just 32. 8 percent (19-58) of their shots and be outdone on the glass for only the fifth time this year. Stanford held the Jayhawks’ leading scorer and the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, Andrew Wiggins, without a basket in the second half and a meager four points on the game. Sophomore forward Perry Ellis, KU’s second-leading contributor, tallied nine points, while his eight points tied for the game-high. No Jayhawk recorded more than two assists and they came up with seven as a team, one short of their season-low.
All-Pac-12 guard, junior Chasson Randle was the difference with six steals, the most the Jayhawks have surrendered to anyone this season. He added 13 points, while senior forward Dwight Powell led the team with 15 points. The duo led an offense that didn’t fare much better than KU from an efficiency standpoint, shooting 44.7 percent (21-47) and 0-for-9 from three-point range.
More than two minutes passed before Stanford recorded its first bucket and the Jayhawks waited more than three before Ellis nailed a jumper inside the top of the key. Though it sparked three-straight made buckets, it did little to effect the slow pace of the game. In fact, the only bang-bang play in the opening minutes went against the Jayhawks when an over-passed ball resulted in a KU turnover-SU layup. Nearly eight minutes into the game and only six points on the scoreboard, Self used a timeout.
The teams kept from separating simply by not hitting shots. Stanford hovered around a five-point edge, but with neither team shooting better than 40 percent scoring came to standstill. Yet, with six turnovers and no threes, Kansas found itself behind by just two points, 18-16. When the Jayhawks would force turnovers, one of their own would result on the next possession and the desperate pining for an offensive spark continued.
Frankamp delivered with the buzzer-beater from three-point land to send Kansas to halftime with the lead.
Black led an eventful 90 seconds to start the second half, putting in two quick buckets to hand Kansas its biggest lead of the game, 28-23. In the same span, however, Tharpe, freshman guard Wayne Selden, Jr. and himself each picked up their third fouls and the whole trio was forced to sit – and a 13-2 Stanford run ensued.
When they checked back in, the Cardinal had climbed back in front, 36-30. Thus, they went back to work with seven-straight points from Black, but Stanford’s slow shooting in the first half was long gone by the second. The low-seed hit eight of its first 11 shots to kick off the final frame and KU fell further behind, 40-33.
While Black was called upon to lead, his supporting cast was hurting for a basket. Twice, Wiggins saw the ball literally go in-and-out of the basket as he both he and Ellis hunted for their first points of the second half.
So, the Jayhawks fought. Kansas guards and forwards alike attacked the basket. With seemingly massive blocks of time separating each field goal, freshman guard Frank Mason and sophomore forward Jamari Traylor took matters into their own hands by driving the lane and hitting the free throws that followed to cut Stanford lead to four, 44-40.
Naadir Tharpe, the Jayhawks’ most efficient three-point shooter, was looking for his first three-pointer in nearly three weeks. The junior point guard hit his only three of the tournament. Thirty seconds later, Wiggins finally notched his first points of the second half.
Kansas had fought its way back to a two-point deficit when the whistle sounded. Black – KU’s only player in double-figures – would have to leave the game. The whistle was for him, his fifth. Ellis took his place, knowing if KU was to advance to Black’s hometown in Memphis, he would have to take on Black’s scoring role. Just like that – Ellis’ put-back dunk tied the game, 49-49.
Jayhawk fans looked on in agony as KU scored just once in the next four minutes and 46 seconds. Frankamp did his best to deliver the game-winner, but the Jayhawks ended their run in the Round of 32.
(10) Stanford 60, (2) Kansas 57