Despite Taylor's shooting woes, Jayhawks charge into Elite Eight
ST. LOUIS -- Tyshawn Taylor did not mince words about his performance in Friday's Sweet 16 game.
"I stunk it up tonight. I'll be the first to tell you," said the Kansas guard after shooting a nightmarish 2-of-14 from the field (including 0-of-6 from three-point range), committing five turnovers and unofficially causing another in the final minute of the Jayhawks' game against 10th seed N.C. State.
"But I'd have felt a lot worse if we lost tonight."
The second-seeded Jayhawks prevailed, 60-57, with a pair of dominant performances from big men Thomas Robinson (18 points, 15 rebounds) and Jeff Withey (a school-record tying 10 blocks) helping to counter a woeful shooting night from Taylor and his fellow guards. (Kansas shot 1-of-14 from three.) The Jayhawks advance to face top seed North Carolina in a much-anticipated Elite Eight showdown, a game that can't get here soon enough for Taylor.
"I want to lace 'em up right now," the senior said less than 30 minutes after Friday's game. "As a competitor, if you suck, you want to do better next time, and that's how I feel right now."
Much like its dramatic Round of 32 victory over 10th seed Purdue last Sunday, Kansas let a less-talented foe hang around right up to the final buzzer, in part because Taylor can't seem to find his groove. He did have 10 rebounds and five assists Friday, but he's now 0-for-12 from behind the arc in three NCAA tourney games -- despite shooting 41.6 percent from three on the season.
Fortunately for him, the Wolfpack had its own trouble putting the ball through the hoop Friday. Mark Gottfried's overachievers made just 19 field goals the entire game, and shot 28.4 percent for the game.
Credit Withey for much of that.
The 7-footer has had no shortage of blocked shots this season (a school-record 126), but Friday marked a milestone even for him. First, he set a school record with seven blocks in the first half alone; then he tied one by finishing the night with 10.
This just a week after going mostly quiet in wins over Detroit and Purdue.
"I feel like I didn't play my best basketball [last week]," said the fourth-year junior. "The first half I was definitely in the zone. I felt like every time they tried to come at me I was getting my hand on it. That made it more intimidating for them after that."
No block was more important than his last.
After trailing 33-32 at halftime, Kansas took the lead shortly into the second half and seemed to be finally gaining some distance going up 58-50 with 3:46 left. Then the lead nearly disappeared. Wolfpack star C.J. Leslie, having sat much of the second half with four fouls, hit a jumper to cut it to six. Then Elijah Johnson fouled N.C. State sharpshooter Scott Wood taking a three-pointer -- the second time the Jayhawks had done it that half. Wood hit all three to make it 58-55. Following a Taylor turnover, C.J. Williams dunked on the other end, and now the Jayhawks' lead was just one with 1:21 left.
Then Taylor's nightmarish night only grew worse. With the shot clock winding down, he threw an errant pass nearly to the backcourt, forcing Elijah Johnson to throw up a desperation heave as the shot clock expired. Now N.C. State had the ball with 37 seconds left and a chance to take the lead. But after a missed shot by Wood, Leslie grabbed the offensive rebound and tried to put up a quick shot with 20 seconds remaining.
Withey got his hand on it -- block No. 10 -- and Taylor grabbed the rebound. He missed the front end of a one-and-one, but the ball went out of bounds off N.C. State, and in a brief moment of redemption, Taylor, inbounding under his own basket, found a cutting Johnson for a wide-open layup to make it 60-57. N.C. State never got another good look.
"[Jeff] bails us out of games, especially like this," said Robinson. "We were down [13-3] to start the game. Without Jeff in there blocking those shots, the score could have been a little worse."
The score might have been different if Taylor stopped throwing up shots at a certain point, but that wasn't going to happen. His coach wouldn't want him to.
"He made some plays because he's pressing, trying too hard, but he's a terrific guard," Bill Self said of his four-year starter. "He'll play [better] on Sunday. I don't have any reservations about that at all."
He'll need to. North Carolina is the rare team with the big men (Tyler Zeller and John Henson) to counter Robinson and Withey. And unlike Kansas' first three tourney opponents, the Tar Heels aren't a double-digit seed; they're a No. 1 seed, albeit an ailing one.
Taylor will need to do his thing. And don't think he'll hesitate.
"I'd shoot it again right now," he said. "I'm shooting again if I'm open."