LAWRENCE, Kan. (KU Sports Information)– Down to the final seconds, redshirt freshman guard Ben McLemore banked a shot off the glass. His fifth three-pointer of the night proved to be the most clutch, tying the game and sending Kansas to overtime – and ultimately – the win against Iowa State, 97-89, in the Big 12 Conference opener inside Allen Fieldhouse Wednesday evening.
No. 6 Kansas (13-1) won its 22nd-straight conference debut in thrilling fashion, collecting its eighth consecutive win against Iowa State (10-4) in Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks’ 31st-straight win in Allen Fieldhouse didn’t lack for excitement.
McLemore’s miracle gave the Jayhawks new life as they started overtime on a blistering 10-0 run. Once he sent the game past regulation, the St. Louis native drilled three-pointer number six, making him a perfect 6-for-6 from behind the arc en route to his personal-best 33 points – just two shy of the Kansas freshman single-game record set by Danny Manning(35, vs. Oklahoma State, 3/2/85).
During a night that belonged to him, McLemore missed only two shots (10-for-12) and none from the free-throw line (7-for-7).
Three different Jayhawks put up double-doubles, starting with senior center Jeff Withey, who finished with his sixth of the year on 15 points and 12 rebounds, while fellow senior Elijah Johnson also tallied a double-double with 12 points and a career-high 10 assists. Senior guard Travis Releford added 12 points, all of which came after the first half. Senior forward Kevin Young chalked up his second double-double in three games with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Although Kansas saw five different players hit double-figures, Iowa State registered six with 10 or more points. The Cyclones came to Lawrence as the best scorers in the league and proved it with 14 threes (14-for-38). Prior to Wednesday night, Kansas was the only Big 12 team to hit that mark from three-point land this season (15 vs. American).
ISU finished the night with 30 field goals (30-for-73) compared to KU’s 31 (31-for-62), but used 11 more attempts. Junior forward Melvin Ejim led the team with 19 points, 16 of which came after the first half. Redshirt seniors Will Clyburn and Korie Lucious followed him with 16 and 15 points, respectively.
To open the game, freshman forward Georges Niang made a pair of threes and a short jumper as ISU got out to a quick 8-3 start. A pair of three-pointers from Johnson quickly helped even the score before McLemore downed his first trey of the evening. Before the first media timeout, both squads had multiple threes to their credit as Kansas climbed ahead via an 8-0 run, 11-8.
KU stretched its scoring run to 10-0 until senior guard Tyrus McGee knocked down back-to-back threes, setting the tone for the back-and-forth evening. After each team began the game with sizable scoring runs, the two held each other within no more than a three-point margin for more than 10 minutes.
The closeness of the first half hung additional importance on each bucket. Down by a point, Johnson pulled off a drive similar to his Temple performance to put Kansas back in front, 23-22. Layups from Young and sophomore guard Naadir Tharpepushed Kansas back to its largest lead of the half, 32-27, but a three from Lucious attempted to curb the Jayhawks’ growing advantage.
McLemore and Co. were just getting warmed up. McLemore drained his third three of the half and Tharpe made his way through the lane for another layup, powering Kansas forward, 40-32, with less than two minutes remaining in the frame.
Predictably, Iowa State didn’t go to the break quietly. After a pair of made free throws from McGee, redshirt senior guard Chris Babb grabbed a rebound with seven seconds on the clock and sprinted down the floor for a buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the half on a 5-0 run and cut the KU lead to four by halftime, 42-38.
Kansas kicked off the second half with a little room, taking a 48-40 edge, but only momentarily. Babb intercepted a pass from Young and immediately converted it into a three-point basket. His next trey capped a 9-0 run and handed the Cyclones their first lead of the half, 49-48.
Two-straight fouls called against McLemore, the second of which sent Babb to the line for three shots, prompted a Kansas timeout as the Jayhawks fell behind by five with 13 minutes to play.
Shooting an icy 23 percent (3-for-13) midway through the second half, Kansas continued to trail, but with both teams going without a field goal for more than four minutes the deficit didn’t worsen. By the time Releford tore down the court for a fastbreak dunk, the Jayhawks had cut their deficit to one, 54-53. Forty-five seconds later, Releford connected again, seemingly restarting both offenses and the trading-baskets routine resumed.
Down 63-57, its largest deficit of the game, McLemore went into action. The rookie nailed a three from the corner, drawing the foul and knocking the and-one down, as well. Moments later, he hit a runner in the lane to offset a jumper by ISU’s Ejim. In less than two minutes, McLemore scored nine points to fight off the visiting team.
But the Cyclones kept coming. Free throws from Lucious and McGee’s third three of the game had Iowa State up, 73-67, at the four-minute mark. Withey’s layup secured the double-double and cut into the deficit, while Tharpe converted both free throws to set up the thrilling finish, trailing 73-71.
With 27 seconds on the clock, the Cyclones pulled ahead, 77-73, putting the game out of reach – or so they thought.
McLemore’s shot not only sent the game to overtime, but also ignited the Kansas offense. The Jayhawks cranked out 18 points, on 100 percent (4-for-4) shooting to smother the Cyclones in overtime.
Kansas will play at Texas Tech on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 3 p.m.