Up 58-52 at the under-4 media timeout, Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks looked to be well on their way to Sunday’s Midwest regional final against North Carolina.
But as was the case in their win over Purdue on Sunday, the win didn’t come easy. Bad shots and turnovers allowed NC State to claw to within one point before a key Elijah Johnson layup with 13.5 seconds remaining made the score 60-57.
Richard Howell’s game-tying 3-pointer fell short of the mark as time expired, giving the 2-seed Jayhawks the 60-57 victory over the Wolfpack in St. Louis.
Neither team shot well from three (NC State: 6 of 21; Kansas: 1 of 14) but NC State also shot just 27.6% from two, and a big reason for that was the play of Kansas center Jeff Withey.
Withey blocked ten shots to go along with eight points and seven rebounds, with the most important rejection coming on a C.J. Leslie layup attempt with 22 seconds remaining.
“You’ve got to give Kansas a lot of credit. I thought their defense was very good, especially around the rim,” said NC State head coach Mark Gottfried. “But we also had a lot of good looks. We couldn’t knock them down.”
Thomas Robinson led Kansas with 17 points and 15 rebounds and Johnson added 11, which helped Kansas navigate Tyshawn Taylor shooting 2 of 14 from the field (six points, ten rebounds, five assists and five turnovers).
Leslie led four Wolfpack starters in double figures with 18 points, but his having to sit with four fouls at the 15:56 mark coincided with Kansas being able to establish some distance between themselves and NC State.
“I thought Calvin was the one guy that was actually getting something done offensively,” remarked Gottfried. “So when he was out of the game, it really affected us on that end of the floor more than anything.”
Just as North Carolina will need better play from Harrison Barnes if they’re to win on Sunday the same can be said of Taylor, who hasn’t played his best basketball during the tournament.
But the good news is that Withey bounced back from a poor game against Purdue, just in time for their battle with John Henson and Tyler Zeller on Sunday.