Kansas experiences relief, joy after escaping Purdue's upset bid
OMAHA, Neb. -- In the moments after stealing a victory -- quite literally, considering Elijah Johnson's strip-and-score in the final seconds -- the operative emotion for Kansas coach Bill Self was relief, sure. "But also some jubilation, too," he said. We shouldn't blame him.
While the second-seeded Jayhawks barely avoided an early exit -- and the second-guessing that inevitably comes with it -- the 63-60 win over No. 10-seed Purdue is stunning for what they accomplished when they absolutely, positively had to. Mostly, that meant Johnson. The junior guard scored 18 points to lead Kansas. In the last three minutes, he took over.
His deep three-pointer with 3:01 left gave the Jayhawks their first lead, 57-56. Two minutes later, down three, he tossed a risky lob perfectly to Tyshawn Taylor for an alley-oop. And with less than 30 seconds left, he stole the ball from Purdue point guard Lewis Jackson, sprinted downcourt and scored to give Kansas the lead for good.
"In the last few minutes, Elijah kind of controlled that game," Taylor said. "He was kind of everywhere, involved in every play."
Johnson's performance allowed Kansas to overcome a poor shooting night -- 33.9 percent, and leading scorers Thomas Robinson and Taylor were a combined 6-of-23 -- and a fantastic final performance from Purdue senior Robbie Hummel. The senior forward scored 26 points, including 22 in the first half, when he was 7-of-8, including five three-pointers.
"It was like he was just throwing a rock in the ocean," Taylor said. "Knocking everything down. 'Dang, when is he gonna miss?'"
Meanwhile, the Jayhawks missed their first eight three-point attempts, and seemed tight. Purdue led by as many as 11 in the first half, and the Boilermakers seemed to have a counterpunch each time Kansas clawed back into it.
"They had the momentum of the game," Johnson said. "They seemed confident. Their coach seemed confident. Although we had most of the arena screaming for us, I heard their fans and they seemed confident."
The Jayhawks didn't seem confident, but they "just hung in there," Self said. "How we won is who we are," he added. "We rebounded and played defense when the game came down to the end. You have to figure out a way when you don't make shots, and we didn't make many shots -- except when it counted."
The loss ended the collegiate career for Hummel, who missed parts of the last two seasons because of knee injuries. "I'm basically in shock from the game," said Hummel, struggling to contain his emotions. "It hasn't hit me yet." Much of Hummel's first-half production came against Robinson. The 6-10, 237-pounder struggled to cover the perimeter. A switch to big guard Travis Releford helped hold Hummel in check, and the Jayhawks gradually closed the gap. During player-only huddles after timeouts, Taylor said they kept telling each other: "We've got to trust each other and keep grinding it."
Purdue led 60-59 with the ball, but Lewis Jackson was stripped by Johnson, who flashed downcourt for the lead with 23.3 seconds left. Still, the entire arena seemed to hold its collective breath when Hummel got open a little later. "I got a pretty good look," he said. "I thought it was going in. It felt good off my hand, it was just short."
The three-pointer bounced off the front of the rim with 8 seconds left. Ryne Smith's long bank shot to tie just missed at the buzzer. And just barely, Kansas moves on to the Sweet 16 against No. 11 seed NC State in St. Louis, with a potential showdown looming after that with top-seeded North Carolina in the Midwest region final. The Jayhawks' emotions?
"It was a lot of joy," Releford said. "It was a weight off our back when the clock went off and we saw that red light."