Kansas wins Border War in historic fashion

LAWRENCE, Kan. – The Border War may well have breathed its last Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse, but the combatants made sure it went out in style. The Kansas Jayhawks erased a 19-point second half deficit to bring down the Missouri Tigers in overtime, 87-86.

So. This is how the Border War dies.

With 120 decibels waking the ghosts of Allen Fieldhouse. With a seemingly insurmountable 19-point lead vanishing into thin air. With a massive blocked shot at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime.

With five more minutes, a flurry of lead changes, and a once-maligned point guard cementing his place in Kansas lore with two huge free throws and ice-water flowing through his veins.

If this was to be the final act of the most intense and emotional rivalry in all of college sports, at least it went out in style. Saturday afternoon, Kansas and Missouri did justice to a hatred that has festered and grown for more than 150 years, dating back to when the field of battle was…well…an actual field of battle, and not the gridiron or the hardwood.

The Kansas Jayhawks saw an almost unfathomable 12-point halftime deficit to the Missouri Tigers grow to as many as 19 points in the second half, before clawing their way back, forcing overtime and eventually claiming an 87-86 victory.

Afterward, an understandably jovial Bill Self called the game as exciting as any of which he had ever been a part.

"It was an unbelievable atmosphere," the Kansas head coach said. "Missouri played great and we played unbelievably well down the stretch - we couldn't make a free throw, we couldn't catch the ball, we couldn't do anything - but when it counted, we made every big play."

"I feel good," said Jayhawks senior Tyshawn Taylor, a grin splitting his face. "Words can't even describe how I feel. I'm so proud of my teammates. They stuck it out and we just kept grinding."

From the tip, the game had the feel of a late-March or early-April affair. The two top-five teams traded blows, staying within one possession of each other until Kim English splashed a jumper to give Missouri a five-point lead, 22-27.

The Jayhawks responded, tying the game at 31 at the 5:35 mark on a mid-range shot by Thomas Robinson - and that's when the wheels began to fall off the Crimson and Blue bus. A pair of free throws by Phil Pressey quickly put the Tigers back into the driver's seat, and by the time intermission arrived they had pushed that lead to a dozen, 44-32.

"This team has been pretty resilient," Missouri head coach Frank Haith said, afterward. "I thought our defense was good the first half; I thought we executed. Looking at the numbers, we made more field goals tonight and out rebounded them. I thought we played pretty well tonight, there's no question about that."

Indeed, the Tigers were scorching hot in the first half, hitting on 46.9-percent of their field-goal attempts including 6-of-14 from beyond the arc. Senior star - and Kansas City native - Marcus Denmon led the way with 13 points, but three Missouri players scored in double digits before halftime.

The Jayhawks, meanwhile, were struggling, shooting 40.7-percent from the floor, including a frosty 3-of-10 from three-point range, and losing the rebound battle 22-15.

The pre-game environment that had been so electric had turned undeniably anxious - a tension that was only stretched more taut by the home team's play to open the second half. Pressey quickly drilled a jumper to open the scoring, and Ricardo Ratliffe, English and Denmon all got into the act as well, giving the Tigers a 19 point lead before the first media timeout.

Desperate to stem the bleeding before the game slipped too far out of reach, Self called a timeout to drive home an oft-repeated philosophy.

"Coach always says there's no 10-point plays, so take every possession (one) at a time," Taylor said. "We had to hunker down on defense and that's what we did. They went for a stretch where they didn't score for a while and we kept making plays and chipping away."

For a while, it looked as if the lead would simply be too much to overcome. A pair of three-pointers from Elijah Johnson allowed the Jayhawks to keep treading water - if only just - but Missouri seemingly always had an answer.

But at the 10:51 mark, with the Tigers leading by 16, something changed. A thunderous dunk by junior forward Kevin Young waved smelling salts underneath the nose of a dazed Fieldhouse crowd, and slowly but surely the Jayhawks began to make their way up the mountain.

Conner Teahan splashed a three. Robinson pulled down and offensive rebound and got a stick back for two. Taylor scored on a driving layup, and the entire team hit its free throws.

With 1:31 left, the lead stood at three points in favor of Missouri, 75-72, and there wasn't an un-chewed fingernail left in the house. A defensive stop by Kansas led to a rare missed three from Denmon, and on the very next possession, with 16 seconds left in the game, Robinson drove to the rim for a bucket off the glass - and was fouled by Tigers guard Michael Dixon in the process.

As he has been all season, Robinson was a rock for Kansas during the comeback. With junior center Jeff Withey sidelined due to an ankle injury suffered in the first half, the National Player of the Year candidate scored 15 second half points and grabbed six rebounds, putting the team on his back.

So with the game on the line, it's fitting that it was Robinson who calmly stepped to the charity stripe and converted the old-fashioned three-point play, tying the game.

And, honestly, that shot wasn't even his biggest play of the game. That came next.

After a quick timeout by Haith to strategize a final play, the cat-quick Pressey shook loose from his defender at the three-point line and drove in for what would have been the game-winning layup - had Robinson not been there to meet him at the rim and erase it.

The block sent the game into overtime, and Allen Fieldhouse into a frenzy.

"I think I had my eyes closed, to be honest with you," Robinson said. "I saw Elijah get beat at the free throw line and, if I recall, in the last game Denmon had the same type of play on the baseline. So like Ty said, it was the same situation, but this time we learned from it. We learned from our mistakes and we capitalized on them this time."

Even with all the momentum resting on the Kansas sideline, the Border War wasn't ready to fade just yet.

A three-pointer by Tyshawn Taylor opened scoring in the extra frame and gave the Jayhawks their first lead since the 6:15 mark of the first half.

Dixon cashed in on one free-throw attempt, before Robinson hit jumper to edge the lead out to four, 80-76. But as he'd done all day, Denmon stepped up when it counted, drilling a deep three.

He did the same three minutes later, with 39 seconds remaining, to give the Tigers the lead yet again, 84-83. Kansas responded with a designed play out of a timeout that led to an emphatic dunk by Taylor, but again Denmon was there to play the part of the spoiler - hitting a two-point jumper to give Missouri a one-point lead with just 12 seconds left in overtime.

Throughout the season, Self has talked a great deal about Taylor's speed. When asked earlier in the season how the lanky senior's skill set compared to other great point guards he'd coached, he said he'd never had one as tall and long and just plain fast as Taylor.

So rather than panic, the Hoboken, N.J. native did what he does best. He grabbed the ball off the in-bounds, taking advantage of an over-amped Missouri team that saw victory within its reach, and left a vapor trail behind him down the court.

It took him less than four seconds, and as he elevated for a layup attempt he was fouled by Pressey, putting him at the line for two shots with a chance to win the game.

He'd been here before. The situation was eerily similar, in fact, as during the first round of the Border War this year - on the road in Columbia, Mo. - he missed free throws that would have gone a long way toward icing the victory. Instead, the Tigers completed an improbable, whirlwind comeback of their own.

But this time, Taylor wrote a different ending. He hit both free throws to give the Jayhawks the lead and ultimately the victory, after Denmon cut loose with one last shot attempt after the final buzzer sounded.

Final Score: Kansas 87, Missouri 86.

"Missouri is good and it wouldn't be a disgrace to lose to a really good team," Self said. "But it's Missouri, and you have to win that one. Our guys played so hard and with so much heart, just like their team did, and I'm just so proud of them."

"Revenge, payback, it definitely feels good," Robinson added. "It felt like someone just jumped us and ran away and we finally caught up to them. Like Ty said, I can't even put it into words."

With the victory, the Jayhawks claim at least a share of their eighth straight Big 12 championship - with a chance to win it outright Monday night, on the road in Stillwater, Okla.

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