NEW ORLEANS — Same story, new night for Kansas. The team that has been teetering on the edge of the NCAA Tournament since before it even began is now one of the last two left.
Tyshawn Taylor made two big free throws late, and Thomas Robinson finished with 19 points and eight rebounds Saturday night to lift the Jayhawks to a come-from-behind 64-62 win over Ohio State in the Final Four — a game that Kansas led for a grand total of 3 minutes, 48 seconds.
After scoring the first basket, Kansas didn't lead again until Travis Releford made two free throws with 2:48 left. That lasted for 11 seconds, but the Jayhawks (32-6), who trailed by as many as 13, overcame another deficit and finally held on against the Buckeyes (31-8).
Taylor's two free throws with 8.3 seconds left gave Kansas a 64-61 lead, matching its biggest of the game. The Jayhawks intentionally fouled Aaron Craft with 2.9 seconds left. Craft made the first then quickly clanked the second of the front of the rim but was called for a lane violation.
Kansas dribbled out the clock and celebrated a win that played out sort of the way the whole season has in Lawrence.
Early in the year, coach Bill Self wondered if this team was even tournament material. The Jayhawks trailed most of the night against Purdue in the region semifinals and were no better than North Carolina for most of the next game.
One win. Then another. This latest one came on the biggest stage: in the Superdome. Next, a meeting Monday with Kentucky and a chance to bring the second title in five years back to Allen Fieldhouse.
This was a heartbreaker for the Buckeyes, who came in as co-Big Ten champions and a slight favorite in the game. It was a rematch of a 78-67 Kansas win in December when Ohio State's star, Jared Sullinger, was not available.
Sullinger was there plenty Saturday night, but he struggled. He finished with 11 points on 5-for-19 shooting, no fewer than three of them blocked by Jeff Withey, the Kansas center who finished with seven swats. Sullinger also had 11 rebounds and a steal, but the sophomore who gave up NBA lottery money to return and win a championship will go without for at least another year.
When the buzzer sounded, he plopped at midcourt, clearly pooped and maybe wondering how his team let it slip away.