Oklahoma big man Tanner Groves’ hard-charging basket in the paint with 5:19 to play in Tuesday’s game between OU and No. 2 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse seemed like it might be the final straw for the Jayhawks.
Instead, it turned out to be just the beginning, as the Jayhawks dominated the final five minutes on Tuesday night to pull out a comeback victory that was as improbable as it was incredible and even registered as one of the most impressive comebacks in recent memory for a program that has made such victories as close to routine as they can be.
“I do think it’s this place,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of the Allen Fieldhouse mystique after Tuesday’s win. “But sometimes when you talk about this place, you don’t give enough credit to the players. The place is special. Guys have so much confidence here. But that was some guys making some individual plays.”
On a night when everyone who suited up for Kansas (15-1 overall, 4-0 Big 12) struggled in one way or another, the six players on the floor for Tuesday’s final stretch, which saw KU turn a 71-61 deficit into a 79-75 lead, all made plays above and beyond what looked possible in the 35 minutes leading up to it.
It started with a KU timeout with 5:17 to play after Groves’ bucket.
Jalen Wilson said the message in the huddle was simple.
“Just to turn it around quickly,” he said.
Sophomore forward KJ Adams, who led the Jayhawks with a career-high 22 points, took that to heart, slipping to the basket out of the timeout and giving point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. a target to hit for an easy basket that sparked the run.
As he charged through the lane unchecked, Adams rose up and hammered a dunk with both hands, shaking the basket and awakening the crowd all in one motion.
“Juan does that all the time,” Adams said. “So, I was waiting for it. (We) knew it was our time. And then Allen Fieldhouse did what they did and got really loud for us and that gave us a lot of confidence.”
It might only have been worth two points, but the basket seemed bigger than that.
71-63, Oklahoma, 5:06 to play.
On OU’s next trip, CJ Noland lost the ball, Kevin McCullar Jr. was credited with a steal and the Jayhawks went back on the attack. Gradey Dick missed a jumper in the paint but Adams grabbed the offensive rebound, one of his three on the night and two on the possession. Hoping to capitalize, Dick missed again, this time from 3-point range, but there was Adams again, chasing down a loose ball to keep the possession alive.
After getting the ball to Harris to get KU in some kind of offense, Jalen Wilson came open on the right wing and buried a deep 3-pointer. Just like that the lead was cut in half – from 10 to 5 – and the building was on fire.
71-66, Oklahoma – 4:17 to play.
“Jalen’s confidence is supreme,” Self said. “He’ll go to bed remembering his three makes and not thinking about his nine misses. And that’s the way it should be.”
Oklahoma quickly called a 30-second timeout with 4:12 to play, hoping to weather the storm. Out of the timeout, which turned into the final media timeout, OU’s Grant Sherfield missed a 2-pointer in tight and Adams grabbed that rebound, as well.
The adrenaline surged, the crowd grew even louder and Oklahoma’s chances dwindled a little bit more when Harris scored in the paint to cut the OU lead to a single possession.
71-68, Oklahoma – 3:33 to play.
Oklahoma actually maintained its composure on its next trip, getting the ball to Jalen Hill in the post to go to battle with Wilson, who stood his ground multiple times and forced a miss in the paint. McCullar grabbed the defensive rebound and KU had a chance to cut it to one or tie the game.
It didn’t happen. Instead, Harris misfired on a wild layup attempt after he got pushed out of the lane to the right side on his drive to the rim. Groves grabbed the rebound and Oklahoma scored a bucket in transition to go back up five.
73-68, Oklahoma – 2:30 to play.
Despite the hiccup, KU was still in it. But time was now an even bigger factor.
Adams missed another bunny in close with 2:18 to play and Noland grabbed the rebound. He then launched a deep 3-pointer with 11 seconds still showing on the shot clock that missed with 1:58 to play. KU caught a break there.
Still leading by three, OU called another timeout at the 1:16 mark, hoping to find one final push to close out Kansas. It never came.
According to ESPN Analytics’ win probability chart, OU had a win probability of 83.4% when Noland grabbed the defensive rebound. It dropped to 78.3% when Noland missed the 3.
From there, the Sooners’ win probability took a complete cliff dive, dropping to 72.8% after Adams’ scored a layup on an assist from McCullar with 1:46 to play and 61.1% when Adams’ transition dunk cut OU’s lead to a single point. .
73-72, Oklahoma – 1:09 to play.
After another miss by Hill on OU’s possession following Adams’ dunk, McCullar drove hard to the rim and converted a tough layup while being fouled with 42.6 seconds to play. The basket gave Kansas the lead and set off an explosion of noise inside Allen Fieldhouse. And McCullar, despite being completely exhausted, calmly drained the free throw that followed to put KU up two.
75-73, Kansas – 42.6 seconds to play.
“Kevin McCullar didn’t do much at all,” Self said. “And then he got an unbelievable drive and got some steals late. Gradey (Dick) didn’t really do a lot and then he gets some big rebounds there late.”
Two, to be exact. One that set up Adams’ fastbreak dunk and the other that set up McCullar’s bucket.
On OU’s next trip — his first while trailing in quite a while — Sherfield airballed a 3-pointer from the right wing in front of the Oklahoma bench.
From there, Kansas simply had to inbound the ball and hit free throws. They did just that, with Wilson hitting two free throws on the first trip.
77-73, Kansas – 18 seconds to play.
After Groves hit a pair of free throws when KU fouled with 13.8 seconds to play, Harris hit a pair of clutch free throws to put Kansas back up four.
79-75 Kansas – 12.9 seconds to play.
Noland missed one more 3-point try in the final 10 seconds and Harris’ defensive rebound with just under 5 seconds to play was enough to close it out. While trying to run out the clock, he flipped it to Dick, who threw it ahead to Wilson, who held onto the ball as the final horn sounded.
79-75, Kansas – Final.
As soon as he did, Wilson turned towards the student section at the north end of the Fieldhouse and made a few wild and celebratory hand gestures.
Asked what he was shouting at the moment, Wilson said: “I have no idea. I couldn’t even tell you what I said.”
What he did know, however, was that he never doubted that KU would come out on top, no matter how dire things looked or what was shown on the clock.
“I think that’s one thing here, over time, and it probably goes back decades,” Self said. “Players think they’re going to win here. Guys think that (when) it’s time to compete, that’s kind of when they enjoy it the most. And that’s what good teams do.
He continued: “It’s a little bit different being confident when things haven’t gone well at all for 35 minutes and then you’re your best and able to focus and compete and all that stuff. These kids have played in so many big games. They actually enjoy it. So, that’s a big bonus.”
If you want to see most of this again (or for the first time) fast-forward to the 8-minute mark of the first video below…