LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Trailing by 34 points with mere minutes left in the second half, Texas guard Myck Kabongo refused to retreat to the bench.
Whether it was the thrill of playing his second game after a 23-game suspension, or a last shot at redemption during a poor shooting night, Kabongo and the Longhorns refused to quit even with the game far out of reach.
Kabongo missed his first seven shots before finishing with 13 points, playing all but two minutes in the Longhorns’ 73-47 loss to No. 14 Kansas on Saturday night.
“I’ll let him play as long as he wants to play,” said Texas coach Rick Barnes, whose team is in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years. “If you would have seen timeouts and huddles and seen them talking, it makes you proud. We’re not going to quit.”
The Longhorns (11-14, 3-9 Big 12), who were second nationally in field-goal percentage defense, went toe-to-toe with the only team better — and shot just 19 percent in the first half.
It didn’t get much better after the break.
Texas finished the game shooting 21.8 percent from the field, and a dismal 2 of 21 from beyond the arc. The Longhorns made 21 free throws, nearly double their number of field goals.
“It really came down to execution and they were better,” said Texas forward Ioannis Papapetrou.
Jeff Withey had 15 points and 11 rebounds while becoming the Big 12’s career blocked shots leader. Elijah Johnson finished with 12 points for the Jayhawks (21-4, 9-3 Big 12), Travis Releford added 15 and Ben McLemore had 13, including a 360 jam in the closing minutes that capped off quite a show for more than a dozen former players in attendance.
Among them was Mario Chalmers, whose buzzer-beating 3-pointer forced overtime in the 2008 national title game won by Kansas. The Miami Heat guard was honored at halftime by having his No. 15 raised to the rafters, where it joined names such as Wilt Chamberlain and Paul Pierce.
Perhaps one day, Withey’s name will reside there.
The senior center had his 265th block early in the second half to move past former Texas star Chris Mihm for the most in league history. The reigning Big 12 defensive player of the year even had four steals while making life miserable for the young, undersized Longhorns.
“It means something to me. I put a lot of hard work in it,” Withey said, “but I have a lot more games to play. Hopefully I can put some distance between it.”
Texas had already fallen behind 11-8 when they went the next 8-plus minutes without a field goal, missing 10 straight shots, three free throws and turning the ball over twice. By the time Papapetrou got to the rim for Texas, the Jayhawks had built a 24-11 lead.
It never got a whole lot better for Texas.
The Longhorns went another 6½ minutes without a field goal before Demarcus Holland’s steal and layup got them within 28-15 at halftime. That meant the final 15:55 of the first half, Texas had precisely as many shot-clock violations (two) as they had made field goals.
It was the Longhorns’ lowest-scoring half of the season.
“We did a good job of making them uncomfortable on the offensive end,” Releford said.
Kansas didn’t waste any time delivering the knockout punch in the second half.
Johnson was the catalyst, scoring the Jayhawks’ first seven points and finally starting to shake out of a season-long slump that has been frustrating and, at times, embarrassing for one of the key players on last season’s national runner-up.
The senior guard started Kansas on a 13-4 run by getting to the basket and drawing a foul. He missed the free throw, but moments later did the exact same thing and converted the three-point play. Johnson finished off his own spurt with another basket, and by the time Releford scored in transition, the Jayhawks had built a 41-22 lead with 14:32 remaining in the game.
Texas coach Rick Barnes, whose team is in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years, was powerless to stop the onslaught even with a full complement of timeouts.
Kansas eventually pushed the lead to 55-28 when Withey scored six straight points, including a follow-up dunk off his own miss with just less than 8 minutes left in the game.
McLemore put the exclamation mark on a celebratory night for the Jayhawks when he got ahead of the fast break with about 4 minutes left and elevated for a 360 dunk that brought down the house and gave Kansas a 68-34 lead on the dazed, checked-out Longhorns.
Kansas, which rallied from 11 down to beat Texas in January, emptied the bench in the final minutes as it coasted to its eighth win in nine meetings with the Longhorns.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” said the Longhorns’ Connor Lammert. “We knew we had to say together. Myck Kabongo, he’s our leader. He did the best job he could.”
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