Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sport
Elijah Johnson poured in a career high 39 points as Kansas defeated Iowa State to stay atop the Big 12 standings
Iowa State was 17-41 from three, forced Kansas to turn it over on 20.7% of their possessions while turning it over on fewer than 10% of their possessions...and they still lost. The Jayhawks put on a three point shooting clinic of their own, going 13-25 from beyond the arc, and held the Cyclones to just 27.5% shooting inside the arc to escape with a 108-96 win in overtime.
It was Bill Self's 500th win as a college coach, and it was Elijah Johnson's best game of his career. In a game where Ben McLemore was virtually invisible, Johnson took over: he got to the rim seemingly at will, he shot 6-10 from three, and he made all 7 of his free throws, including two huge ones to send it into overtime. Plagued by ball security problems all year, Elijah turned it over just 3 times while dishing out 7 assists.
Despite Kansas allowing 1.17 PPP to the Cyclones they remain the best defense in Big 12 play, showing their dominance on that side of the ball. They did end up giving up quite a few open looks to the Cyclone shooters, but when a team can space the floor and put 3 or 4 good shooters on the floor those types of things are going to happen. I do wish Kansas would have gone to the zone to allow Withey to stay at home more, but I'm not the one with 500 wins. In the second half they defended the three a lot better, but to their credit Iowa State kept making them. Sometimes those things just happen and there isn't much that can be done about it.
The story for last night though was Johnson. The lightning rod for criticism has offensive ratings higher than 120 in three of his last four games, and he is shooting better than 50% from both two and three in that stretch. Whether he is more confident or saw that the Jayhawks needed someone to step up and get to the rack as often as possible, it really seems like something has flipped. Regardless, a dangerous Johnson who doesn't commit too many careless turnovers and who can finish at the rim turns Kansas into a title threat.
Now Kansas has three very winnable games in between them and a 9th straight Big 12 title, and they are an Oklahoma State win at home (where they will be favored) over Kansas State from winning it outright.
I suppose I have to say something about the refs, even though I don't particularly see why. Was that an offensive foul at the end of the game? Probably. But focusing on that ignores the countless other calls that were incorrect (both benefitting KU and Iowa State). Focusing on one call just because of when it took place is really dumb, but for some reason the average sports fan seems to think that points in the last couple minutes of the game are worth double for some reason. Also, for the record: Iowa State took fewer than half of their shots from inside the arc, while Kansas took nearly two thirds of theirs inside the arc, yet Iowa State went to the line more (48.6 FT rate to 39.7 FT rate). I'm not sure how a terribly officiated game the entire way through that probably benefitted Iowa State more than it benefitted Kansas adds up to the refs gifting Kansas a win, but I guess the average sports fan tends to be (somewhat understandably) irrational about games.
The other annoying thing I have to talk about is Elijah's dunk at the end of the game. I can sum up my reaction in two words: who cares? I have never understood why fans want to call athletes having fun classless, and I don't see why there was any reason to be up in arms about a college kid getting excited about a huge performance in a big win. I didn't have a problem with Marcus Smart's backflip and I sure don't have a problem with a kid playing basketball with time left on the clock. Personally I'd say an Iowa State fan trying to physically assault a basketball coach is much worse than someone playing basketball, but what do I know.
- Jeff Withey was held without a blocked shot, but he did have a double double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. He also fouled out, which underscores how bad of a matchup Iowa State is for him. He should have fouled out in regulation but the refs gave it to Kevin Young rather than him for some reason. He only took 7 shot attempts despite being virtually a free 2 points every time he got the ball. I know he doesn't have the best hands but he should have been given the ball on the block more.
- Iowa State isn't a great matchup for Kevin Young either, but he had 13 points on 6-8 rebounds and 9 rebounds. He made some big hustle plays as he is wont to do and also even made a jumper to start the game.
- Travis Releford was 5-9 from three and had 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.
- The lone bad spot last night was probably Ben McLemore. He has really struggled on the road for some reason and took just 6 shots in this one, going 2-5 from two and 0-1 from three. He was defended really closely, and that did help open things up for Johnson and Releford, but in order for Kansas to get where they have the talent to go McLemore needs to be a lot more aggressive on the offensive end.