Any conversation about Ben McLemore must now begin with the obvious question — was Kansas’ 87-85 loss to Michigan in the Sweet 16 his final game in a Kansas uniform?
All signs point to yes, but McLemore deferred talk of his future on Friday night despite the overwhelming sense that the 6-foot-5 shooting guard and All-Big 12 selection from St. Louis was done with college.
“No, not at all, I haven’t thought about what I’m going to do,” McLemore said. “Not right now, not yet. I’ve spent this year focused on playing college ball and getting better each and every day.”
It’ll be hard for McLemore to say no to NBA riches, especially after how he played against the Wolverines.
Projected as the top overall prospect by ESPN, Yahoo and NBAdraft.net, McLemore’s stock took a slight dip after averaging 6.5 points over the Jayhawks’ first two NCAA Tournament games. Against Michigan, he bounced back with 20 points on eight for 15 shooting, including four for eight from beyond the three-point arc.
“I’ll support whatever direction (McLemore) and his family want to go,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “And he needs to explore. He needs to look into doing what would be potentially great for his family, and if it’s the right time, he needs to go.
“But if it’s not, he should stay. But we’ll discuss it.”
McLemore was back to being the player Kansas fans had grown accustomed to on Friday. He shook off a slow start — he missed his first three shots — before making a three-pointer with 8:47 left in the first half that gave Kansas a 25-17 lead.
He caught fire late in the first half with a layup, dunk and a three-pointer in just under 90 seconds, putting the Jayhawks up 36-26 with 3:14 to play on the three.
“(Self) just kept telling me to be aggressive, keep playing and it was going to happen,” McLemore said. “We had the game in our hands before they started making big shots.”
McLemore continued his scoring surge early in the second half, but disappeared down the stretch and in overtime. His last points came on a three-pointer with 11:18 left in the second half, giving the Jayhawks a 58-48 lead.
McLemore didn’t even get another shot attempt until missing a layup with 48 seconds left and Kansas up 74-69.
On the final play of overtime, McLemore was an option for a driving Elijah Johnson, who kicked the ball back out to Naadir Tharpe for a missed three-pointer as time expired.
McLemore did not attempt a shot in overtime.
“That last play was supposed to be a layup,” McLemore said. “But it wasn’t there and (Johnson) was supposed to kick it out to me or whoever was open…
“It was a tough loss, a lot of us were emotional when we got in the locker room. The seniors have been through a lot and I feel bad for them. The underclassmen, we just tried to help them the best we could, so it makes it even tougher to see the looks on their faces. We’ve worked hard every day since July and we deserved to get to this spot ... I’m just sad it has to come down to this.”