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Kansas Advances to National Championship Game With 64-62 Win Over Ohio State

Kansas vs. Kentucky
8:23 PM Monday
NEW ORLEANS, La. – Junior Elijah Johnson recorded his first career double-double to help Kansas basketball stage a second-half comeback and edge out Ohio State 64-62 Saturday night to advance to its eighth National Championship game. Inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, a crowd of 73,361 was the largest ever to witness a KU basketball game.

For the third time in the last four games, the Jayhawks found themselves down at halftime but battled back to notch the win as it improved to 32-6 overall. Kansas will now face Kentucky, which defeated Louisville 69-61 in the other national semifinal game, in the title game on Monday, April 2 at 8:23 p.m.

Johnson scored 11 of his 13 points after halftime and added a team-high 10 rebounds in the victory despite battling foul trouble during the second frame. Junior Thomas Robinson also added 11 second-half points on his way to a game-high 19 tallies.

KU bounced back from a poor shooting percentage in the first half to hit 53.8 percent (14-for-26) in the last 20 minutes while its defense limited Ohio State to just 24.2 percent (8-for-33). Kansas junior Jeff Withey provided a spark on defense as the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year finished with seven blocks in the contest, including five in the second half, to go along with eight rebounds and four points. Robinson also pulled down eight boards.

Johnson first got Kansas back in the game with back-to-back buckets to cap an 11-2 KU run that tied the score 38-38 with 14:06 left to play in the game. Ohio State would not go away that easily hitting key shots to maintain its lead, which stretched back to six on two occasions, the last at 5:22, 55-49.

From there though the Jayhawks turned up the intensity and were clutch down the stretch. With 2:48 to play, junior Travis Releford stroked in a pair of free throws to give Kansas its first lead, 56-55, since the opening seconds of the game. The Buckeyes briefly took back the advantage when Aaron Craft broke through the passing lane for a steal and fastbreak layup at 2:21 to make the score 59-56.

Johnson and Withey teamed up to help put KU back on top when Withey rejected an OSU shot and then sent an outlet pass down the court to Johnson who layed it in for two with just over a minute to play. OSU’s William Buford, who led the Buckeyes with 19 points, used an emphatic dunk on the other end to bring his team within one point, 62-61, with nine seconds to go. Ohio State fouled on the following in-bounds to allow senior Tyshawn Taylor to stave off a potential lead change as he calmly knocked down two free throws. Taylor finished the game with 10 points and was just shy of a double-double dishing nine assists.

The teams’ shooting performances in the second half were a stark contrast to the opening frame when Ohio State held the upper hand. At the start of the contest, Robinson scored Kansas’ first basket at the 19:35 mark but the Jayhawks went 0-for-7 over the next four minutes to allow OSU to build an early 7-2 lead. Johnson eventually ended the scoring drought with a layup at 15:32 to cut KU’s deficit to three.

Kansas would continue to struggle from the field for the rest of the half going 11-for-30 (36.7 percent) from the field in the first 20 minutes. Ohio State meanwhile was having the opposite result as it went into halftime shooting 50 percent (5-for-10) from behind the three-point arc and 46.2 percent from the field.

Ohio State expanded its first-half lead by as much as 13 with 6:11 on the clock but Kansas was able to cut the difference to single-digits right as time expired. With four seconds to play, OSU’s Aaron Craft drove to the basket but had his layup attempt swatted by Withey, his second of the game. Withey then sent an outlet pass down the court to Taylor. Taylor took two bounces towards the basket but then dished across the paint to an oncoming Releford who laid it in just before the horn sounded to make the score 34-25 at the break.

About Derek Nester

Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids, and graduated from Valley Heights High School in May of 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communication. After stops at KFRM and KCLY radio in Clay Center, he joined KNDY in 2002 as a board operator and play by play announcer. Derek is now responsible for the digital content of Dierking Communications, Inc. 6 radio stations. In 2005 Derek joined the staff of KCFX radio in Kansas City as a production assistant for the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, which airs on 69 radio stations across 9 Midwest states.