Kansas needed a hero Wednesday night, locked in a tough conference opener against Iowa State.
The hero they got is a precocious 6-5 freshman who, judging by his performance against the Cyclones, has no reservations about stepping up in high-pressure situations on national television.
McLemore scored 33 points on an efficient 10-of-12 shooting, including 6-of-6 from three-point range, carrying the No. 6 Jayhawks to an 97-89 overtime win at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan.
Kansas struggled for an eight-minute stretch in the middle of the second half, breaking out of it with 8:34 to play. In the three minutes that would follow, McLemore scored 10 points, including a four-point play that pulled Kansas to within one point.
But his biggest shot came in the final seconds of regulation, banking a three-pointer with just over one second remaining to tie the game at 79-79 and force overtime.
Kansas dominated in overtime and sealed the victory.
The win preserves and extends Kansas’ home winning streak to 31 games and keeps Iowa State winless at Allen Fieldhouse since 2005.
It was a valiant effort for Iowa State, though, a team that has flown under the radar for much of the 2012-13 season. Despite a 10-4 start, the Cyclones boast one of the most high-powered offenses in the country, being in the nation’s Top 10 in both points and rebounds and the Top 20 in assists.
The key to staying in the game Wednesday was balance, with six players in double figures, including 15 points from guard Korie Lucious, who hit a few key three-pointers down the stretch for the Cyclones.
Kansas led by four points at the half, 42-38, but struggled through a nine-minute stretch that ended with 9:17 to play after a transition dunk from Travis Releford.
The Jayhawks traded baskets with the Cyclones through much of the middle of the second half, before Tyrus McGee sank a three from deep on the right wing with 4:02 left to extend the Iowa State lead to six points, 73-67.
Kansas pulled to within two points, 73-71, but forward Melvin Ejim owned the paint in the final minutes. He grabbed a big rebound off a missed three-pointer and laying it back up, then driving right at center Jeff Withey on the next possession and laying it up for two.
An Elijah Johnson floater got Kansas to within one point, 77-76, with 14.5 seconds to play. Iowa State hit two more free throws to extend the lead to three, which led to McLemore’s heroics.
For Kansas, Withey had a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds. Kevin Young also had a double-double, tallying 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_