For most of the game, it became a chicken-and-egg kind of question: Which came first, the trigger-happy 3-point shooting and sloppy turnovers that led to a defensive battle-like score, or tough defense that led to rushed shots and poor passes?
Then, with the final minutes ticking down in the second half, Kansas channeled the intensity that surfaced in the team at halftime one more time, and after the Buckeyes made them look so sloppy the entire game, the Jayhawks pulled it together in the final two minutes to win. On a night when other teams were dominating and unleashing killer plays, Kansas held on just long enough.
Ohio State got its early lead and held it thanks to its edge on the perimeter, where the Buckeyes sank 3-point shots throughout the game, but ultimately it was Kansas' ability in the paint that made the difference in the 64-62 Jayhawks win. Kansas hit just three 3-pointers, and just two other shots outside the key, relying on its power inside to spark the comeback and overcome a lead that at one time reached 13 points.
Both sides let loose early in the shot clock as the game began, and a turnover-plagued first half gave way to a 34-25 Buckeyes lead at the half.
Kansas took the momentum when the second period began, coming out with an obvious intensity and urgency, but the fruit of its newfound fire wouldn’t appear for a while. The Jayhawks still struggled with basic passes and making layups, clinging to Ohio State’s coattails as the Buckeyes failed to put together enough of a run to give them distance in the contest.
But in a game where Kansas looked so off, so out of place with its supremely athletic players unable to convert, so on its heels even as the score remained close, perhaps that was the Jayhawks' key — it never looked easy, but they kept at it until they could pounce.
Kansas shot 54.8 percent in the second half, with 23 rebounds, but held Ohio State to 24.8 percent shooting, and just 15 rebounds. Better yet, Ohio State's Sullinger — who scored 13 points and gathered 11 rebounds — was never let loose around the basket. For all its temerity, Kansas scored more than half of its points in the paint, and that was enough. When the Jayhawks' defense locked down, Ohio State was left without an escape hatch.
Kansas has been considered a powerhouse for much of the season but responded many times with uneven performances. Its trip through the tournament hasn't been pretty. Rather than dominating Saturday night, it chipped here and there until it could make its move at the end, much like it did in beating North Carolina to advance to the Final Four.
On a night when Kentucky furthered its case for the national championship, Louisville showed it was deeper than anyone thought, and Ohio State put up a spirited show, Kansas did what it has seemed to do best this season: survive.
And for that, the Jayhawks get to play again.
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