Give Kansas credit for at least one thing this season, they’ve had a flare for the dramatic. Down 18 points to a fired up West Virginia team and down two starters, including Perry Ellis, arguably their best player, who was lost to a knee injury late in the first half and it didn’t look good for the Jayhawks.
However, for a visiting team to win at Allen Fieldhouse, it’ll never be easy and with the support of a raucous crowd of 16,300 in the old barn, what was left of the Jayhawks showed, grit, determination and a lot of heart in rallying to take down the Mountaineers 76-69 in overtime to clinch its 11th consecutive Big 12 regular season championship with one game remaining in the regular season. It was a battle that was dramatic, tense and most of all, it was exhausting.
"I don't know if I could have gone five more minutes; that was a tiring day, in large part, because we were so bad in the first half,” head coach Bill Self said “Whatever Iowa State had the first half yesterday I think we had tonight. We played tough, we played hard, but playing without Perry obviously is not good. He had the flu and got off to a bad start anyway, then he gets hurt.”
It was jubilation and relief, but it was also nerve racking, as Ellis sat out the entire second half with a knee injury, that while not a serious, still sent fear into the heart of their coach.
“We don't know the extent of it, but the good news is we think he can be back in about a week or so. I think Oklahoma may be a long shot, which is fine, but the kids battled and the crowd was great. Certainly, it has to rank up there with one of the best wins we've had here”
West Virginia was without two of its starters as well, including start guard Juwan Staten, but through the game’s first 30 minutes, they were the aggressor and took it the hosts, as they pounded Kansas on the boards, outrebounding them by a considerable margin. The effort and energy helped them to a 40-22 lead, which was slightly trimmed to 40-26 at halftime.
Without Ellis and fellow forward Cliff Alexander, who is still sitting out while an investigation is still ongoing as to if the freshman has broken some NCAA rules that could question his eligibility, Kansas began scratching and clawing their way back.
"I just felt like we had to make plays, guys were stepping up and we fought back," forward Jamari Traylor said.
On a night where Kansas missed all 15 of its three point attempts and on a night where they were outrebounded, they managed to get the game to within single digits, but still trailed 57-51 with 1:55 remaining. Traylor would take over, forcing a turnover, scoring to cut it to four and then getting block on the ensuing defensive possession.
Guard Frank Mason would cut it to two and then freshman Devonte Graham would sink two pressure packed free throws with 11 seconds to play and after a free for all on the final possession of regulation, it was overtime and the Jayhawks never looked back.
Traylor, who filled in admirably for the fallen Ellis, cemented the game in Kansas’ favor with a thunderous dunk on a breakaway that gave the Jayhawks 67-65 lead and the league would be theirs for good. With the celebration on, the attention then turned to the 11 trophies, which is mind boggling no matter which way one looks at it.
"I will be shocked if it happens again in a major conference,” Self said. “It's a great run. The reason we have won them is because we have had better players than teams we played. That's a pretty easy formula. We shouldn't take away from this team talking about 11 because this team deserves to be the one talked about, but it's been an unbelievable run and the guys certainly competed their butts off to get it."