LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — In their final game at Allen Fieldhouse, Jalen Wilson and fellow Kansas senior Kevin McCullar Jr. not only kept the hardscrabble Jayhawks in front of Texas Tech most of the night but made the play that sealed the win.
Along with another Big 12 title.
Wilson had 21 points to lead all scorers, McCullar added 14 points with a critical basket in the final minute, and the third-ranked Jayhawks held off the Red Raiders 67-63 on Tuesday to clinch at least a share of their NCAA-leading 64th regular-season conference championship.
“It felt so good to win,” Wilson said. “I just wanted to cherish the moment.”
Dajuan Harris had 16 points for the Jayhawks (25-5, 13-4), who would capture the outright title if No. 9 Texas loses to No. 22 TCU on Wednesday night. Otherwise, the Jayhawks would need to beat the Longhorns on Saturday.
Kansas was left clinging to a 61-60 lead after the Red Raiders’ De’Vion Harmon could only make the second of two free throws with 56.4 seconds left. But after the Jayhawks raced up the floor, and Wilson failed to get an open look, a loose ball ended up in the hands of McCullar, who merely had to lay it in for a three-point lead.
“It was a loose ball. I seen Harmon reach for it and I was like, ‘I need to get this ball and get this bucket,’” said McCullar, who transferred from Texas Tech. “Nobody was around so I just stuck it in. That play was huge.”
“If anybody was going to make that play, it was Kevin,” Wilson added. “That’s just the type of guy he is.”
Texas Tech still had time left and called a timeout to set up a play. But Pop Isaacs threw a driving layup off the side of the backboard, and Harris scored in transition for the Jayhawks to put the game out of reach.
“We had to decide for the 3 or try to score and get something quick and went with that,” Red Raiders coach Mark Adams said of the game’s crucial possession. “Didn’t get the call.”
The Jayhawks improved to 22-1 against Texas Tech (16-14, 5-12) in the Phog with their seventh consecutive win overall, and they have not lost on senior night since the 1983-84 season.
“They made some big plays down the stretch, especially the last couple of minutes. That’s what Kansas does,” Adams said. “With their homecourt advantage, they know how to win late in games.”
Harmon had 15 points to lead Texas Tech, which was just 3 of 16 from the 3-point line. Kevin Obanor added 14 points, Fardaws Aimaq had 13 points and 18 rebounds, and Isaacs finished with 11 points.
Wearing retro red uniforms for their senior sendoff, the Jayhawks got off to a frigid start against the defensive-minded Red Raiders. McCullar eventually dropped a couple of 3s minutes apart to give Kansas some breathing room, and Wilson began driving for contested layups, helping the Jayhawks forge a 30-21 lead by the break.
Texas Tech was 1 of 11 from beyond the arc and committed seven turnovers over the first 20 scattershot minutes.
The Red Raiders’ cold streak ended there. They scored five quick points to start the second half, nearly wiping out their deficit in their first few trips down floor, and Obanor began to get easy buckets in the paint.
While the Jayhawks kept answering every time Texas Tech got within a possession, they could never put the game away. And when it appeared as if they might as Gradey Dick scored his first points on two free throws to make it 60-55 with about three minutes to go, the Red Raiders answered with back-to-back baskets at the other end.
It wasn’t until McCullar’s bucket and Harris’ breakway layup in the final minute that Kansas could finally celebrate.
Texas Tech was making a late run toward an NCAA Tournament bid with four straight wins, including consecutive victories over Kansas State and Texas. But back-to-back close losses to TCU and Kansas could make a run to the Big 12 Tournament title the only way to make it back to the dance.
Kansas has more Quad 1 wins than any other team in the country, and advanced metrics also love the Jayhawks, who once again reign supreme in the nation’s toughest conference. That’s probably enough to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but winning Saturday along with a Big 12 tourney title could get them the top seed overall.
The regular season concludes Saturday when Texas Tech plays Oklahoma State and Kansas visits Texas.