LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) – Kansas took a big step toward keeping its streak of Big 12 titles intact Wednesday night.
Kept a lot of other streaks going, too.
The third-ranked Jayhawks leaned on star freshman Josh Jackson, who responded with 23 points and 10 rebounds, and some stingy defense in the final minute to knock off No. 2 Baylor 73-68 and take a one-game lead over the Bears at the midway point of the Big 12 race.
“It was big. It was for first place,” said junior guard Devonte Graham, who added 13 points. “We knew we had to come out and get that ‘W’ so we could remain in first. Now we have to take this game and that momentum and keep it rolling.”
The Jayhawks (20-2, 8-1) are aiming for their 13th consecutive Big 12 title, but there are still huge hurdles standing in their way. More immediately, the win was their 51st straight at Allen Fieldhouse and ninth in a row over the Bears (20-2, 7-2), who have never won in 15 tries at the Phog.
“We know it’s going to be hard,” Kansas coach Bill Self said, “and if we hadn’t won tonight, we’re not out of the race. But it would be even more of an uphill climb.”
It was nip-and-tuck almost the entire way.
The game was tied 64-all with 2:23 left when Jackson went baseline for a dunk. And after Frank Mason III made a couple of foul shots moments later, the teams began trading baskets down the stretch in a matchup that lived up to its billing — and the lofty rankings of both teams.
Manu Lecomte’s fall-away jumper brought Baylor to 70-68 with 51 seconds left, but Ish Wainwright missed a 3-pointer badly on the team’s next possession. Svi Mykhailiuk made one of two free throws with 18 ticks left for the Jayhawks, and then they buckled down for the biggest stop of the night.
Lecomte was hounded around the perimeter by Mason and Landen Lucas, and passed the ball off to Johnathan Motley, who likewise had nowhere to go with Jackson in his face. Motley’s pass landed out of bounds with 1.3 seconds left, and Mason made both free throws after getting fouled on the inbounds play.
Mason had 19 points and Mykhailiuk finished with 11 for the Jayhawks.
Motley had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Lecomte also scored 16 for the Bears.
“One day we’ll win up here,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said, “just not this year.”
The Jayhawks dominated the opening minutes, getting off shots before Baylor could settle into its vaunted zone. But they eventually got too sped up, turning it over three straight times.
Gradually, the Bears were able to slow the game to their liking, clawing back to take their first lead at 18-16 midway through the half. They proceeded to rip off a 10-2 run a few minutes later, their big salvo triggered by a defense that completely shut down the Jayhawks in the paint.
Motley began to assert himself at the other end, scoring most of his 14 first-half points right at the basket, as the Jayhawks’ poor interior play continued to drag them down in the second half.
It was their outside shooting that kept them in the game.
Mykhailiuk drained two 3-pointers in quick succession out of the locker room, part of a 13-0 run that gave the Jayhawks a 41-36 lead. Mason added five points during the charge, which energized another sellout crowd at the Phog and prompted Drew to call a timeout.
The teams traded blows the rest of the way, with Kansas delivering the final shot.
“They’re a great team, their coach is a great coach and I think he does a great job of using their athletic abilities,” Mason said. “I think when we go down to Waco, it’ll be a great game.”
Self said Carlton Bragg Jr. remains suspended indefinitely after being granted diversion earlier in the day. Bragg was charged this week with possession of drug paraphernalia after two smoking devices were found during a separate investigation of the players’ dorms. Self also read a statement in which he declined to comment on a report that G Lagerald Vick might have struck a female student two years ago, and that a university investigation recommended probation. “I have been told that I cannot comment on a university investigation, whether one is or is not taking place, or ever has,” Self said.
WHO IS HE?
Wainwright honored his late grandfather, Maurice King, by wearing “King-Wainwright” on his jersey rather than just his last name. Maurice King, who died in 2007, was the first black starter in Kansas history and played alongside Wilt Chamberlain in the 1950s.
Baylor is hardly out of the conference race. Its two Big 12 losses have come at West Virginia and Kansas, and there is no harm in that. The challenge going forward is to beat those teams at home.
Kansas: Self improved to 8-0 against top-5 teams in Allen Fieldhouse.
Baylor returns home to play Kansas State on Saturday.
Kansas welcomes Iowa State to the Phog on Saturday.
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