There may come a day later in March, when the Kansas Jayhawks look back to Sunday’s come from behind 69-62 victory over Temple and realize that a game in early January could have helped save a season.
“We needed that,” guard Elijah Johnson said. “Because if a team could have us down at home, we know they can have us down on a neutral court.”
With five minutes to play, the Owls (10-3) had Kansas down 57-54 and had minutes before had a four point lead and the Jayhawks (12-1) were looking for answers and what they found was a resolve that will come into play later down the road.
With forward Travis Releford in foul trouble, the Jayhawks rallied behind a double-double from fellow senior Kevin Young, who notched 16 points and brought down 10 rebounds. Young was one of three Jayhawks in double figures, including Releford, who scored 14 and Ben McLemore, who finished with 13.
“I think it was great,” coach Bill Self said. “I thought it would be a game like this, though I thought we would play better, but I thought it would be a game where we would have to play the entire 40 minutes to win.”
Senior guard Elijah Johnson was crucial down the stretch dishing out nine assists, while scoring nine points. Senior center Jeff Withey nearly had another triple double, finishing with eight points, 11 rebounds and nine blocks.
“Looking at Withey’s blocks at nine, what it doesn’t tell you is how many alters that he had,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “We changed some of our shots because of his presence in there.”
Still, the Jayhawks were down 57-56 with under three minutes to play. The Owls had the ball and momentum. Then, when Kansas needed a big defensive play, they got it, as McLemore stepped in front of a pass and race down the right side, before hammering home a dunk that gave KU the lead for good. The steal was the first and only Kansas steal of the game, Temple finished the game with the just four turnovers to the Jayhawks’ 14.
The Jayhawks finished the game on a 15-5 run to cement the win and conclude the non-conference portion of their schedule before opening up Big 12 play Wednesday night at home against Iowa State. But, it was a win in early January that could have a long lasting effect that may be recalled on a night much later down the road.
“We made a lot of plays down the stretch when we got down three and I’m proud of our guys on how they reacted to not being very good today, because to have a great season, you have to have games where you don’t play as well and this was certainly one of those games for us,” Self said.