Kansas outlasts Oklahoma State
by Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY Sports
STILLWATER, Okla. — They played on into the night here inside a frenzied Gallagher-Iba Arena, two NCAA tournament-bound teams harboring hopes of winning an unexpectedly competitive Big 12 conference.
And in the end, ninth-ranked Kansas outlasted 14th-ranked Oklahoma State, 68-67 in double overtime, managing a regular season split with the Cowboys and taking a significant step toward its ninth consecutive Big 12 regular season title.
Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe sank a mid-range floater with 15 seconds to play — the Jayhawks’ only field goal in either overtime – that proved to be the game-winning basket. Oklahoma State, playing the final two-plus minutes without standout guard Marcus Smart (fouled out), could not get off a good shot on its final possession.
“Dude just went in and made a tough shot … ” Smart said. “It was difficult not being out there. I felt I let my teammates down.”
The game could not have been much closer. There were 16 ties, 23 lead changes, and the largest lead by either team was Kansas’ five-point advantage in the second half.
And the same could be said of a conference race that remains competitive in a top-heavy league that could send as many as six teams to the NCAA tournament. Entering Wednesday night’s games, the top six teams in the Big 12 standings were separated by 2.5 games. No Big 12 season has finished with the top six teams separated by two games or fewer.
Kansas is tied with Kansas State (21-5, 10-3) for first place in the Big 12 standings. Kansas has five remaining regular season games: home matchups against the league’s weakest teams (TCU, West Virginia and Texas Tech) and treacherous road games against Iowa State and Baylor.
“This was a huge win for conference implications,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I really thought Oklahoma State had the easiest path. We probably still have the toughest road.”
Questions have hovered over Kansas ever since Oklahoma State’s Smart punctuated his team’s win over the Jayhawks with a back flip inside Allen Fieldhouse on Feb 2. They went on to lose their next two games after that surprising home defeat, including a … [For more on Kansas outlasts Oklahoma State, takes big step toward Big 12 title, click here.]