Kansas’ offense all but shut down, but that didn’t prevent the Jayhawks from pulling out a 60-57 victory over North Carolina State.
Kansas advanced to the Midwest Regional final at 4:05 p.m. Sunday against North Carolina in a second opportunity for Tar Heels coach Roy Williams to beat his former team. The winner will advance to the Final Four.
The Jayhawks made it hard on themselves but still reached the Elite Eight for the second straight season and for the fifth time in Bill Self’s nine seasons as KU coach.
Leading by eight with 3 minutes, 45 seconds remaining, Kansas went without a field goal until Elijah Johnson scored on an inbounds pass with 14.8 seconds to play.
But Kansas wasn’t out of the woods.
As in last Sunday’s survival of Purdue, the Jayhawks had to sweat out a final possession with a three-point lead.
But Thomas Robinson made it difficult for Richard Howell to receive the court-length pass and get off a shot from in front of the N.C. State bench.
“It was a physical game,” Kansas center Jeff Withey said. “There were a couple of times were we could have put them away, but they fought back.”
There wasn’t much scoring, but there was plenty of action late, and most of it was created by the Wolfpack as things started getting tense for the Jayhawks.
Kansas led 58-57 when Self took a timeout to settle the offense. But Tyshawn Taylor’s pass to Johnson landed at midcourt, and Johnson’s heave grazed the backboard as the shot clock expired.
North Carolina State called a timeout with 37 seconds remaining and got off two shots. Scott Wood missed a three, and after a tap-out rebound, C.J. Leslie went to the basket and his shot was blocked by a combination of Robinson and Withey.
Withey, a blocked-shot specialist, had the best defensive game of his career with 10 blocked shots — one off the NCAA Tournament single-game record — and set a KU single-season record (126) in the process. He altered plenty more and was a primary reason why the Wolfpack shot 28.4 percent (19 of 67).
“Anytime you get 10 blocks it’s outstanding,” said Leslie, who led the Wolfpack with 18 points but missed much of the second half because of foul trouble.
“I had to figure out the game as it went on.”
It seemed everybody’s shooting was off. Kansas missed 13 of 14 three-point attempts, and its poor perimeter shooting continued in the NCAA Tournament. Entering the game, the Jayhawks were shooting 27.5 percent from behind the arc.
Taylor was fouled with 16.1 seconds remaining and missed the front end of a one-and-one. But the ball was knocked of bounds by Leslie.
On the inbounds pass, Taylor found a breaking Johnson at the basket, and his layup gave KU a 60-57 lead with 13.5 seconds to play.
The Wolfpack attempted to run a play for Wood, their three-point specialist, but his heel was out of bounds as he received a pass. This mistake was unforced, but Kansas did plenty to frustrate N.C. State all night.
“Their defense was very good, especially around the rim,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said. “Kansas made some key plays at key times.”
Kansas could have taken a little pressure off at the free-throw line, but Robinson, who finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 2.9 seconds to play.
That led to the Wolfpack’s last-gasp attempt.
Before the final stretch, the Jayhawks came out with a purpose to open the second half.
Johnson knocked down a three-pointer starting the half and gave Kansas a 35-33 lead.
KU forced a turnover, and Robinson cleaned up a Withey miss.
Soon after Leslie scored his team’s first basket of the half, he drew his third foul swiping at Taylor going to the basket.
Gottfried gambled and kept his top player and leading scorer on the bench for the next 8 minutes.
The Kansas lead grew to 44-35 on two Withey free throws at the 15:55 mark.
There simply wasn’t much scoring the remainder of the game, but there was plenty of drama.