By Matt Tait
Ben McLemore's hot first half kept the Kansas University basketball team in it, and the rest of the offense caught up in the second half, as the Jayhawks gutted out a 69-55 victory over upset-minded Chattanooga at Allen Fieldhouse on Thursday night.
The Jayhawks trailed by as many as 10 in the first half and by eight — 36-28 — at the break, thanks largely to six first-half triples from Chattanooga's Farad Cobb.
In the second half, though, Travis Releford drew the defensive assignment and shut Cobb down, and the KU offense responded by pushing the tempo whenever possible for highlight buckets that raised the decibel level each time.
"The seniors played good the second half, awful first half, but really good second half," KU coach Bill Self said. "And Ben was terrific."
McLemore — Self said the freshman dislocated a finger twice in the second half but came back in after getting it popped back into place — led the Jayhawks with 25 points, and Elijah Johnson chipped in 18 as two of the three Jayhawks to reach double figures in scoring. Jeff Withey finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds. McLemore turned in another nice night on the glass, finishing with eight rebounds.
KU hit 7 of 23 three-pointers, and Chattanooga finished the night 11 of 23.
"We had more fun in the second half thanks in large part to defending," Self said.
Here's a quick look back at some of the action.
The game turned when: Kansas responded to its largest deficit of the night — 42-30 — with an 19-1 run in the second half. The Jayhawks were more aggressive on defense and pushed the ball more to pick up easy buckets in transition. During this same stretch, UTC seemed to rely too much on the three-point shot, and the mounting misses only aided KU's surge.
Offensive highlight: Take your pick. During KU's furious rally at the beginning of the second half, there were several transition buckets and three-pointers that were big. But an alley-oop pass from Elijah Johnson to Ben McLemore with 15:22 to play pulled KU within three, ignited the Allen Fieldhouse crowd and came at just the right time for the home team. A little later, McLemore showed he could work the alley-oop from the other end, too, lobbing a perfect pass to Withey, who hammered it home and gave KU a 10-point lead with 6:50 to play.
Defensive highlight: Jamari Traylor's flying swat of Ronrico White with 17:52 to play in the first half sure was the most picturesque defensive play of the night, as Traylor hovered in the air and rocketed the ball out of bounds on his way down. Traylor had a big block the other night against Michigan State and came up with another one in the early going against Chattanooga.
Key stat: Chattanooga's 8-of-14 shooting from three-point land in the first half looked like the easy winner here, but the hot start merely made life more difficult for the Jayhawks, who turned up the defense in the second half and held UTC without a field goal make from the 18:05 mark until 5:30 remained in the game.
Up next: The Jayhawks will play next at 9 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19, when they take on Washington State at Sprint Center on ESPN2.
KU outscores UTC, 41-19, in the second half.
UTC is 0-for-8 from two-point range this half.