LAWRENCE, Kan. – The last time Kansas needed to overcome a 15-point halftime deficit was on the biggest stage in college basketball.
The Jayhawks certainly weren’t going to be intimidated by one in Allen Fieldhouse.
With another raucous home crowd behind it, the nation’s No. 4 team quickly wiped out the big lead Oklahoma State had painstakingly built. And when KJ Adams scored the go-ahead basket with 4.8 seconds left, the Jayhawks twice stopped the Cowboys at the other end to squeak out a 69-67 victory Saturday in the Big 12 opener for both teams.
“There aren’t any 15-point plays,” said Jalen Wilson, who was instrumental in helping the Jayhawks rally from the same hole to beat North Carolina for the national title, “so the main thing was to win every 4 minutes and that’s what we did.”
Wilson finished with 20 points and Adams had 14 to lead the Jayhawks (12-0), who trailed 45-30 at the break before a 22-5 run wiped out the deficit and propelled them to their 32nd consecutive conference-opening win.
“It could have went to 20 real quick or we could get it down to 10,” Wilson said. “We all came together, shook off the first half, understood we’re at home. Fifteen points can seem like a lot but it’s not.”
The Cowboys (8-5) didn’t give up after the comeback, finding themselves with the lead again in the closing minutes.
Kansas took it back on Kevin McCullar Jr.’s 3-pointer with 45 seconds left, and Wilson added two free throws moments later to stretch the lead to 67-64. But the Cowboys’ Bryce Thompson, who began his career at Kansas and matched a career high with 23 points, drilled his own 3-pointer with 14.8 seconds left to tie the game at 67.
The Jayhawks raced up court, got the ball to Adams and he made a nifty lay-in to regain the lead.
“We always run plays where I screen and roll out real fast,” Adams said. “It was just like that.”
Oklahoma State lost the ball at the other end trying to score in transition, and with 1.1 seconds on the clock, the Cowboys got the inbounds pass to Thompson, whose shot was swatted from behind. A final inbounds pass was batted away.
Thompson hit seven 3-pointers but dealt with second-half foul trouble for the Cowboys, who have lost four straight and nine of their last 10 to the Jayhawks. John-Michael Wright also had four 3s and finished with 19 points.
“We gave ourselves a chance right up there to the end,” Cowboys coach Mike Boynton said, “but there’s no moral victories.”
The last instruction Oklahoma State got before tipoff came on a whiteboard held by a staff member: “Alert The Lob Backdoor.” The Cowboys shut that down and just about everything else.
McCullar had three turnovers in the first 5 minutes and four in the half. Adams also had four in the half. And one of the two 3-pointers that Gradey Dick hit was a desperation bank high off the glass.
Oklahoma State capitalized at the other end, taking advantage of wide open skip passes for their own easy 3s. Thompson hit four of them in the first 15 minutes, and two more attempts were halfway down before bouncing out. Wright’s fall-away 3 with 1:56 left forced Kansas to call timeout, and his buzzer-beater gave Oklahoma State a 45-30 halftime lead.
The Cowboys were 9 of 18 from the arc in the first half. Kansas had 11 turnovers.
Then came the comeback.
It began when DaJuan Harris Jr. drilled a 3 in front of the Kansas bench. It continued with 11 straight points after Thompson hit another 3 of his own. And by the time Wilson hit a 3-pointer with 10:54 to go, the Jayhawks had ridden a 22-5 surge to not only wipe out their halftime deficit but take their first lead since the opening minutes.
Kansas wasn’t able to draw away, though. And that set up a frantic final 10 minutes.
“It’s the exact same thing as the national championship,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “You turn it up, tie it earlier than you ever expect and then it becomes a basketball game.”
Oklahoma State. The pressure of Allen Fieldhouse was evident in the second half. The Cowboys’ first three possessions ended with a missed shot, another miss as the shot clock sounded and a shot-clock violation. By the time they finally got their legs under them, Kansas had wiped out their advantage and made for a tense finish.
Kansas: Even during the Jayhawks’ 22-5 second-half run, when they went scoreless on three straight possessions, their defense kept Oklahoma State from regaining momentum. It helped that they only turned it over once after the break.
Oklahoma State: Plays No. 24 West Virginia on Monday night.
Kansas: Heads to Texas Tech on Tuesday night.