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Manhattan ESPN Game Day announcer Digger Phelps intercepted Sherron Collins as Kansas University’s sweat-soaked senior guard made his way to the locker room after the Jayhawks’ 81-79 overtime victory over Kansas State on Saturday night in Bramlage Coliseum.
“He said I was on a mission. He said he could see in my eyes that I’m on a mission to win it all,” Collins said after shaking off a sprained ankle and crippling case of the cramps to hit perhaps the biggest basket in the game, a driving one-hander off the glass that stretched a one-point lead to 79-76 with 9.2 seconds left.
“He said I am one of the toughest players he’s ever seen,” Collins added, a proud smile creasing his face.
Collins, who was hacked on the play by Wally Judge, missed the free throw try, but Cole Aldrich tapped the rebound out to Brady Morningstar, who was fouled and drained two free throws at 4.3 seconds to ice a victory that gave KU a two-game lead in the Big 12 race.
Was it the biggest of Collins’ career?
“It had to be,” Collins said of the shot he described as “a push, a floater.”
“Except for Memphis,” he added of a huge three he hit in KU’s late comeback in the 2008 national title game versus the Tigers.
It’s a minor miracle Collins even was on the court to make the pivotal overtime shot against KSU.
Collins was hit hard by cramps on KU’s final possession of regulation, during which he fell and had the ball stripped by Dominique Sutton with three seconds left. Fortunately for KU, with the score tied at 69, Tyrel Reed saved the day by poking the ball from Sutton as he raced in for a game-winning layup.
“I didn’t get a shot up. I tried to make a move. It’s when cramps hit me. I just went down,” Collins saaid.
“Even with the cramps, you’ve got to get a shot in that situation,” he quickly added. “Coach was pretty mad. I was mad, (but) I caught the cramps.”
He started the overtime, but cramped up and left the court with 2:44 left, KU up, 75-74. Collins, who stretched on the sidelines and guzzled Gatorade, returned with a minute to play, KU up 77-76 thanks to a Cole Aldrich hook in the lane at 1:53 that erased a one-point deficit.
Collins hit his shot for the ages in the first KU-KSU overtime game since 1989, thinking about his cramps as he went up.
“I was going to shoot it,” Collins said of making up his mind to score on a key possession that started with :41 left, with KSU coach Frank Martin electing not to foul down by one.
“I was just hoping I didn’t cramp up when I went in. I wanted to get as high as I could when I jumped. I got up and drew contact. Really, I was just going to try to draw contact. I saw I could get in the lane, saw an opening. I actually thought he (Judge) would foul me harder than he fouled me. When I saw I had a chance to get the shot up, my eyes were wide-open.”
KU coach Bill Self rejoiced when the shot banked in.
“It was a heck of a shot, off balance, off one leg, high off the glass. It was a big-time play,” Self said.
In a big-time game.
The Jayhawks, who had five double-digit scorers (Aldrich 18, Collins 16, Morningstar 14, Marcus Morris 13, Tyshawn Taylor 12), overcame a 14-2 KSU run that turned a 43-35 lead into a 49-45 deficit with 9:23 left.
“It’s one of the all-time great road wins we’ve had,” Self said proudly after his No. 2-ranked team improved to 20-1 overall and saw No. 11 KSU fall to 17-4, 4-3.
“Overtime, against a very good team, a Top 10 team, on (ESPN) Game Day. It’s maybe as good a road win as we’ve had since we’ve been at Kansas.”
There were many heroes — Aldrich picked up his fourth foul with 7:28 left in regulation, and Morris fouled out with 4:11 left in regulation — but none bigger than Collins.
“It was big, real big,” Collins said of the victory. “It’s the toughest atmosphere I ever played in, the loudest in my four years.”
Collins again led the way in the intangible department. Heck, he thinks the reason he got the cramps in the first place is his demeanor before the game.
“I wasted too much energy just waiting for the game,” he said. “Coach Self had to tell me in pregame to calm down cause I was so amped for the game, walking around, smiling.”
Self didn’t get a chance to congratulate his team leader until after media interviews long were over, but not because of Digger Phelps.
“He was too busy talking to Erin Andrews,” Self said with a smile, referring to his guard’s postgame interview with ESPN’s popular sideline reporter.