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Naadir Tharpe proves his value to No. 8 Kansas in win over Baylor

Naadir Tharpe (10) stepped up for Kansas to help the Jayhawks rebound against Baylor. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images) Naadir Tharpe (10) stepped up for Kansas to help the Jayhawks rebound against Baylor. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid combined for three points in the first half Tuesday night against Baylor, all of which came from Wiggins' half-court buzzer beater. If you told Scott Drew that would be the case before the game, he probably would have taken a quick break from his pre-game prep to run out and buy a lottery ticket. So he likely knew how much trouble his team was in when the Jayhawks still led by eight at halftime.

Naadir Tharpe carried Kansas in the first half, scoring 14 of his team-high 22 points before the break, and Wiggins took over in the second, dropping in 11 as the Jayhawks ultimately cruised to a 69-52 win. Wiggins and Perry Ellis each finished the night with 14 points.

While Wiggins, Embiid, Ellis and Wayne Selden, Jr., understandably get all the attention for the Jayhawks, Tharpe has proven himself to be a reliable scorer. The junior scored 23 points in Kansas' 77-70 win over Iowa State back in mid-January when Selden and Ellis combined for just 15 on 6-of-20 shooting. Five days later, when the Jayhawks knocked off Oklahoma State by two, Wiggins had three points while shooting 1-5 from the floor while Tharpe scored 21 points on eight shots.

Tharpe may just be the X-factor for Kansas in the NCAA Tournament. He plays the second most minutes per game behind Wiggins and, thanks to his 44.6 three-point percentage, has the second-best effective field goal percentage in the Big 12 behind Baylor's Brady Heslip. Wiggins, Embiid and Selden will all be playing in their first NCAA Tournament this year. Tharpe got nearly 20 minutes per game for last year's Kansas squad, which was a 1-seed and lost to Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen in overtime.

The major players will have to shine if Kansas is going to reach its ultimate potential in March, but like Louisville's Luke Hancock and Kentucky's Doron Lamb before him, Tharpe can be the unheralded guy on the star-studded team that pushes his team over the top.

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