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Monday, March 19, 2012

Keegan

Elijah Johnson comes up big for KU

Kansas teammates Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson celebrate the win over Purdue on Sunday, March 18, 2012 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha.

Kansas teammates Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson celebrate the win over Purdue on Sunday, March 18, 2012 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha.

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Podcast episode

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

KU coach Bill Self

Kansas coach Bill Self talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 63-60 victory over Purdue on March 18, 2012.

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Podcast episode

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

KU guards Elijah Johnson and Tyshawn Taylor

KU guards Elijah Johnson and Tyshawn Taylor talk to reporters following the Jayhawks' 63-60 victory over Purdue on March 18, 2012.

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Podcast episode

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

Purdue's Matt Painter, Robbie Hummel and Lewis Jackson

Purdue coach Matt Painter and players Robbie Hummel and Lewis Jackson talk to reporters following the Boilermakers' 63-60 loss to Kansas on March 18, 2012.

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KU vs. Purdue

Box score

— Las Vegas, the town from which Elijah Johnson came to play big-time college basketball for Kansas University, is packed with guys who have the guts to make high-risk plays.

Even his friends back home had to be impressed with the confidence Johnson showed in lifting his team from also-ran status in the NCAA Tournament by doing a little bit of everything on a night packed with so many snake eyes for so many teammates.

In the final 3:12 of KU’s 63-60 victory against Purdue, which advanced the Jayhawks to a Sweet 16 match-up against North Carolina State, Johnson sensed somebody had to make things happen, and he didn’t see any reason not to be that somebody. Until Johnson took over the game, Kansas never had led and had trailed 13-2 at the outset.

In the final 3:12, Johnson scored five points, had two rebounds, a steal and a bold assist. His three with 3:04 left gave Kansas its first lead, 57-56, and it wasn’t the play for which he’ll be remembered most. That would be the lob he tossed to Tyshawn Taylor with 1:02 left, which again put Kansas up by one. Of course, the steal and layup that gave KU another one-point lead with 23 seconds left won’t be forgotten soon.

Watching the transformation of superior athletes into terrific basketball players ranks as one of the most enjoyable aspects of watching Bill Self’s basketball laboratory night in and night out, year in and year out.

Late in the season that almost ended Sunday night in the CenturyLink Center, the tentative Johnson, who always talked like he believed in himself but didn’t always play like it, made believers of everybody.

The only player in KU’s starting lineup who didn’t earn Big 12 Player of the Week honors, Johnson has been more aggressive taking his man off the dribble, more assertive defensively, more confident of his long-range shooting. He has made 15 of 29 threes in the past five games.

“His confidence seems higher,” Self said. “I don’t know if there is anything specifically, other than the fact that maybe he’s realized he’s talented. He’s a good guard. I would say he was our best player in Omaha, when you think of both games.

“He played well (in the Big 12 tournament) in Kansas City when our team struggled,” Self said. “He’s a really good guard. I think that he’s going to continue to get better and better.”

Johnson led Kansas with 18 points, made seven of 14 field goals and three of eight three-pointers. He had four rebounds, three assists, two steals and just one turnover.

He had a calming influence on the team and ignited the confidence of struggling teammates — on a night Thomas Robinson made just two of 12 field goals, and the team, excluding Johnson, shot .188 from three-point range and .292 overall.

Because he’s a change-of-pace guard who likes to lull his defender into a comfortable state and because he plays alongside the remarkably quick Tyshawn Taylor, he sometimes doesn’t appear as quick as he actually is.

Johnson’s the latest example of how this team is as remarkable as any of Self’s in terms of how much it has grown, a reality not lost on classy Purdue coach Matt Painter.

When someone tried to paint the game as a story of David nearly slaying Goliath, Painter didn’t buy it.

“They play hard, too,” Painter said. “Obviously, they have won eight straight Big 12 championships. I don’t think he has a McDonald’s All-American on his team. You’ve got to give Bill Self credit. They have guys that have developed into NBA prospects. You’ve got to give them credit for that, too.”

Reaching the Sweet 16 had a little more meaning than usual for Self this time.

“I would say in years past, it’s probably been more of a relief,” Self said. “I feel relieved, but feel some jubilation. The kids are excited. If you look at our team and somebody said you will be 29-7 and playing in St. Louis in the Sweet 16, everybody would have said, ‘What a great year.’ I’m proud of our guys because a testimony to a team’s toughness is to figure out a way to win when things aren’t going well.”

Johnson has developed into one tough customer, even by Vegas standards.

Comments

Joel Thomas 2 years, 8 months ago

Awesome second half for Johnson. Especially when nothing else was working.

Benjamin Jones 2 years, 8 months ago

This game was snatched from the jaws of defeat.

Phoggie_Thinking 2 years, 8 months ago

After watching that game you have this to say about the article?

Ben Kane 2 years, 8 months ago

does someone have to bring this up every day? let it go...

hawk_of_ages 2 years, 8 months ago

Mmm, I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure EJ's alley-oop to Tyshawn only got us back within one, it didn't give us the lead. It was EJ's subsequent steal and layup that finally gave us the lead back, then Tyshawn's dunk at the end that put us up 3...

Either way, no arguments here about who the player of the game was. I always liked EJ even when he was just a supportive presence on our bench as a freshman. It's great to see the kid finally coming into his own on the biggest stage.

actorman 2 years, 8 months ago

You're right, hawk. Excellent article otherwise, Keegan, but that line is wrong. The lob only brought the score to 60-59. It wasn't until the steal and layup that KU went back ahead, 61-60.

Mike Bratisax 2 years, 8 months ago

Good pick-up from an otherwise on target article..

JD Roth 2 years, 8 months ago

C'mon Keegan, you have to perform better than that. Proof read a little bit, please.

Lance Hobson 2 years, 8 months ago

Right. For those of us biting our nails and begging for every point we could get we know exactly how many points we were down and when. That play was all or nothing, but it was fearless. When I saw it I knew we had a chance even though we were still losing - and we definitely were still losing.

This game was so much different than other tourney failures because of the fearlessness. No Brady or Tyrel Reed freeze-ups, just pure clutch play. I don't know what will happen next but I'm very impressed with TT and especially EJ.

JacquesMerde 2 years, 8 months ago

I don't know what any of the losing players or coaches think, but it seems cruel to be asking them questions about the game right after they've lost. This coach doesn't seem to dislike it. I am pretty sure I would. The two players seem to dislike it, Robie less that Louis.

actorman 2 years, 8 months ago

Jacques, have you only started watching sports recently? It might seem cruel but it's done after every game, in every sport. Whether or not players or coaches like it, it's not a surprise to them.

s6u6r6f 2 years, 8 months ago

Referencing Mr.Bedore's article on Elijah from yesterday: Hey Gary...good call.

I love rebuilding. Rock chalk.

jaybate 2 years, 8 months ago

Rebuilding to an NC.

That's the Kansas way.

The Prophet finally went huge the second half!

Rock Chalk Jahawks.

Go Lawrence Airmen!

fansincewilt 2 years, 8 months ago

Great coach, great team, great game and great article - credit due.

Uwe_Blab 2 years, 8 months ago

Say it ain't so Coach, the Hawks only have 6 losses, not 7! Don't be prophetic and give yourselves a loss in the next game!

bball 2 years, 8 months ago

Hey Tom, EJ learned to play ball in Indiana. I know LV makes for a good storyline but the Indiana connection is even more so. That said, EJ was clutch and seemed to be enjoying the moment(s) as some of his teammates struggled.

bball 2 years, 8 months ago

Hey Tom, EJ learned to play ball in Indiana. I know LV makes for a good storyline but the Indiana connection is even more so. That said, EJ was clutch and seemed to be enjoying the moment(s) as some of his teammates struggled.

april28 2 years, 8 months ago

The LOB! Man oh man what a play. There are very few point guards in the entire country who can get that high and jam an alley oop on a fast break.

HawkKlaw 2 years, 8 months ago

What a display of talent and athleticism! One of the best dunks/moments of this season for KU. It felt like KU was in control from that point on.

JD Roth 2 years, 8 months ago

Perfect execution, good feelings after that cut it to one. KU lock down defense!!

Lance Hobson 2 years, 8 months ago

I have never seen such a highlight reel circus play like that in such a pressure packed moment. It was fearless...and amazing (word most over-used apparently in 2011 but who cares, it was!).

REHawk 2 years, 8 months ago

What a gutwrenching conclusion to a very hardfought contest! Did every Jayhawk but Naadir spend time assigned to Hummel? T-Rob, perhaps never in your future career as a collegiate and professional basketball player will you be so swarmed and smothered. Amazing that you achieved another double/double. That Boilermaker bunch had lost so often to Jared Sullinger that their coaching staff had outlined a path to thwarting your greatness, keeping you too flumoxed and spedup to do major damage. But you kept after 'em, and made an imprint. I hope to see your rebounding stats right up there behind Wilt before you depart. Congratulations to the entire team for maintaining poise and grinding out this victory. I hope Travis' body quickly recovers from the brutal punishment it absorbed last night. Thanks to the scheduling gods that we don't have to turn around and play another game within 48 hours! If this would have been our opening contest, O My! Rock Chalk!

Rock_Chalk_25 2 years, 8 months ago

Wow. What a game. It was absolutely electric inside the Century-Link Center. The crowd wanted to erupt the whole game, but Kansas refused to build on any momentum they gained during the first 39 minutes. It seemed as if every "DEFENSE" chant from our fanbase was answered with a Purdue bucket or free-throws. I was definitely in a glass half full mindset until Elijah's clutch steal and subsequent lay-up. My pessimism stemmed from the fact that we were about to flameout in the tournament way too early---again.

It always seems that some player goes off against us, and three Robbie Hummel treys into the game I shot my dad a puzzled look. After he dropped a 30-footer in the first half, I legitimately thought we had already lost the game. Self admitted afterwards that he wasn't certain that would pull out the win, and I think that was the general vibe in the arena.

Anyways, I love the chemistry of the team. Even though Elijah was our only player who played well, nobody seemed to get down. No negativity. No finger pointing. There was a sense of urgency that this group hadn't faced all year and you could see the raw emotion in timeouts. I bet Self was thinking this could be the last time coaching Tyshawn and TRob. I bet Tyshawn and TRob were thinking it could their last game under Coach Self. One thing is for sure, I'm really glad that it wasn't the last time I see those two in KU jerseys.

dtdjayhawk 2 years, 8 months ago

+10000000000000

I hope we get to watch them all the way to the National Championship game!!

JD Roth 2 years, 8 months ago

"Even though Elijah was our only player who played well" and you claim you were at the game?? Holding Purdue to 24 points in the second half, I'd say the whole team played well on defense. Basketball isn't just about offense, wake up!! Defense won this game, if you know basketball and you were at the game!!

Rock_Chalk_25 2 years, 8 months ago

I guess Releford played a solid game, and Withey had some bright spots. Tyshawn closed really well. But I stand by what I said. Just because we won and held them to 24 points in the second doesn't mean we played a good game. We beat a team by 3 that we should beat by 10 comfortably, IMO.

I fully expect Tyshawn and TRob to return to their normal dominating ways against NC State.

CHEEZIT 2 years, 8 months ago

No mention of Travis Releford? He was basically keeping us in the game until he got into foul trouble in the first half!!!

FLJHK 2 years, 8 months ago

OK, maybe I'm just caught up in the moment. But I don't remember feeling this happy the night after a KU tourney game since some little game against Memphis in 2008. There's little rational justification for this feeling. The game was ugly. KU's typical means of securing victory were thwarted all night. The fear if another early tourney exit haunted fans and players alike throughout the game.

But they won. They displayed the heart of a champion.

It seems to me that in most years, the eventual winner endures a game like this. One where despite multiple challenges, they simply find a way to win.

I can't say that I "enjoy" these games. They are nerve-racking and very bad for my blood pressure. But again this morning, I realize and appreciate how lucky I am to be a Jayhawk.

Rock Chalk!

JD Roth 2 years, 8 months ago

I'll tell you why you are fired up!! This group is unheralded and not supposed to be in this position. We have had so many teams that were supposed to be in the Final Four that underachieved, it is refreshing to see this "rebuilding" year be so successful!! This is great!!

Vernon Riggs 2 years, 8 months ago

I want to shout out to Naadir. He came in from being in HCSB's doghouse all year (maybe even under the doghouse.) He stepped-up and drained a three. Missed a two that was rebounded and put back in by TRob. He gave some solid minutes durign the game when TT sat. Drove the ball. Played decent defense. Jayhawks' future PG picture is great.

Steve Corder 2 years, 8 months ago

Keekan's comment, "the transformation of superior athletes into terrific basketball players", is the testamony of a great coach.

IF Self stays at Kansas for another 20 or so years AND picks up a couple more NCAA championships then I believe he'll be as legendary as Phog Allen. And when Kansas tradition is talked about in the years ahead those two will be mentioned together.

I hope everyone realizes how good a program we have and the coach who makes it all fit together.

KGphoto 2 years, 8 months ago

After watching it again this morning, my favorite moment of the game came after EJ's layup and Purdue's timeout with 23.3 seconds remaining.

Robinson, Taylor, EJ, Relly and Teahan huddled up. EJ, TT and TRob all say some things, then Teahan and Relly begin to break the huddle. Mr. Zero grabs both of their jerseys without even looking at them and pulls them back into the huddle with the authority of an angry mother telling her kids they better behave, or else.

He says some impassioned words, and the following defense spoke for itself.

EJ and Tyshawn handled the ball in the critical winning moments, but it was Robinson that wasn't going to let this team lose.

dtdjayhawk 2 years, 8 months ago

I saw that as well ...fantastic leadership by those 3 players and especially T-Rob

kuae99 2 years, 8 months ago

YES! I came here to post about that. I'm amazed that the reporters didn't ask about what was said in that huddle and disappointed. That was the emotional crux of the game right there for us. I don't think the last 2 Purdue possessions go as well for us without it.

Jesse Johnson 2 years, 8 months ago

EJ defnitely deserves all of the praise and accolades he is receiving for his performance in this game.

But what about Releford? I thought he carried our team in the first half during the stretch when Hummel was raining 3s left or right. It seemed like Releford was the only player who could score in that stretch and kept our team from getting totally out of the game.

Without his first half offense, we lose this game.

nwhawkfan 2 years, 8 months ago

I'd like to nominate Naadir for the Clint Normore "Where The Hell Did That Come From?" Big Time Trey Award...

DCLawHawk 2 years, 8 months ago

Ha! Not since Jacque Vaughn's last-second trey against Indiana have I screamed "Nooooo" and then "Yessssss" in such quick succession after watching a Jayhawk freshman heave a three-point shot.

REHawk 2 years, 8 months ago

HA! My wife and I bellered the identical Noooooo! followed by the same Yesssssss!

Woody Cragg 2 years, 8 months ago

Slayer-I thought the line "from Bill Self's basketball laboratory" made this read a +10 myself.

Lance Hobson 2 years, 8 months ago

Jayhawks, please provide a comfortable margin of victory in your next game, my heart cannot take another one of those.

DCLawHawk 2 years, 8 months ago

Every starter for the Jayhawks won Big 12 Player of the Week at some point this season except for Elijah Johnson. Well, they may not give that award out during the NCAA Tournament, but Elijah Johnson just earned Big 12 Player of the Week honors in my book! The Prophet's time has come. Someone in Lawrence ought to construct a fake Big 12 Player of the Week trophy to present to him. RCEJH!

REHawk 2 years, 8 months ago

And that trophy ought to stand ten foot tall.

Scott Smetana 2 years, 8 months ago

Don't get me wrong.. I think Self is a Genius. But....

I just don't understand why Withey wasn't in the game more, especially when they were taking it inside more the second half. He's not that slow, is he? TRob passes it so well to Withey when he gets doubled. I'd rather see TRob pass to 2 time Big 12 player of the year Withey under the bucket than out to Teahan. Any one else wondering this too?

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