MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Josh Jackson’s left eye was still blood red after it got poked during practice earlier in the day, and a bruise was forming on Frank Mason III’s right elbow after a spill over courtside tables as he tried to save a loose ball.
Yes, third-ranked Kansas is a supremely talented team.
Turns out the Jayhawks have a lot of fight, too.
Jackson dealt with the bright lights that caused him vision problems to score 18 points, Mason’s trip over the table highlighted his 21-point performance, and the Jayhawks rebounded from a rare home loss to hold off pesky Kansas State 74-71 on Monday night.
“I think those plays define seasons,” Kansas coach Bill Self said afterward. “It’s always an extra-possession hustle play that means the most to your team.”
All those hustle plays allowed the Jayhawks (21-3, 9-2 Big 12) to beat the Wildcats (16-8, 5-6) for the fifth straight time, though it was just as nip-and-tuck as their meeting in Lawrence.
The game was tied 63-all with 2:50 left when Kansas ripped off six quick points, but the Wildcats kept hanging around. D.J. Johnson hit three of four foul shots down the stretch, and Kamau Stokes hit a 3-pointer from the wing to get within 72-69 with 19.2 seconds to go.
Devonte Graham calmly hit two more free throws to put the game away.
“We haven’t lost two in a row since 2013, not that it matters,” Mason said, “but we wanted to come in here and play aggressive and play with a lot of pride.”
Dean Wade led the Wildcats with 20 points. Stokes added 16 points and eight boards, Johnson had 14 points and Wesley Iwundu contributed 13 points and 11 rebounds.
“They’re really good. They’re one of the top five teams in the country, there’s no doubt about it,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. “We played both games to the last possession, but there’s no moral victories. You have to win the game.”
The Wildcats no doubt remembered the first meeting in Allen Fieldhouse, when the Jayhawks’ Svi Mykhailiuk traveled on the way to the basket — no whistle was blown — for the winning layup. And they promptly roared out to a big early lead, leaning on their defense to produce easy offense.
But rarely do the Sunflower State rivals get together without a tussle.
Kansas used a pair of big runs to take a 37-35 lead into halftime, then appeared to flex its muscle coming out of the break. Jackson hit back-to-back 3-pointers, Landen Lucas threw down a dunk and the Jayhawks stretched their lead to 47-38 and forced Kansas State to call timeout.
The Wildcats responded by inching closer throughout the second half, and their big break came when Jackson picked up his fourth foul with 9:56 to go. With the springy freshman reduced to sitting on the bench, the Wildcats pulled ahead 60-59 on Wade’s basket with 4 1/2 minutes to go.
It was still tied 63-all when Mykhailiuk hit an open 3-pointer from the wing, and that triggered a quick spurt by the Jayhawks that included free throws from Mason and Jackson.
They never trailed the rest of the way.
“I thought our guys competed really hard,” Self said. “That was a good basketball game. That was two teams competing hard against each other.”
Self lifted Carlton Bragg Jr.’s indefinite suspension after the sophomore was granted diversion for misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, a charge that will be dismissed if he does not commit a crime for the next six months. Bragg left briefly in the second half after hurting his left foot, and nearly got a technical foul during a scrap for a loose ball, before finishing with six points.
“We know he’s been through a lot,” Jackson said. “He did a great job of overcoming that and coming out and playing hard tonight. He did a great job.”
Kansas maintained control of the Big 12 race by sweeping the season series. But big games loom in the next couple weeks, including a visit from West Virginia and a trip to Baylor.
Kansas State showed in a road win over the Bears on Saturday that it can beat the nation’s best, but close losses are starting to stack up. The Wildcats lost to Maryland, Texas Tech, Iowa State, TCU and now Kansas twice in games decided by five points or fewer.
Kansas heads to Texas Tech on Saturday.
Kansas State visits West Virginia on Saturday.