Kansas University’s wild 71-65 Big 12/SEC Challenge basketball victory over Florida on Friday night — in which the Jayhawks overcame an 18-point second-half deficit — ranks as the third-greatest comeback in a home victory in KU history.
KU trailed UCLA by 19 points in the first half of an 85-70 victory on Dec. 1, 1995, in Allen Fieldhouse.
And the Jayhawks were down by 19 to Missouri in the second half of an 87-86 overtime win on Feb. 25, 2012.
KU trailed Missouri, 58-39, with 16:24 left following a Marcus Denmon three. It took the Jayhawks all the way to the :16 mark to finally tie the score at 75 on a Thomas Robinson free throw.
On Friday, the Jayhawks were down 45-27 after a layup by Devin Robinson at the 16:43 mark, giving KU just 19 seconds more to work with than in the Mizzou game.
KU this time erased the huge gap in a much quicker span.
Junior Perry Ellis hit a free throw to knot the score at 52 with 6:18 left, meaning it took KU just 10:25 to make up 18 points on the Gators, compared to 16:08 to make up 19 versus the Tigers.
“I wasn’t worried. I mean our crowd ... I felt like if we got our crowd back into it, everything will be all right,” Ellis said of Friday’s atmosphere, in which the crowd was quiet as Florida built its huge lead, but became rowdy as the Jayhawks clawed back.
“Definitely,” Ellis added, asked if Friday’s game was the type he’d remember a long time. “Tough-fought games and comebacks ... we fought as a team. That’s what you want.”
The comeback started with a stern halftime talk with the team down by 15 points (39-24).
“It wasn’t good,” freshman point guard Devonté Graham said, smiling, referring to the harsh message of coach Bill Self, “but it was, we had to be aggressive. In the first half, we were too passive, taking a lot of jump shots. He got on me, Wayne (Selden) and Frank (Mason III) for not getting in the paint and making plays. We were being just so soft and not attacking. The message was just come out and go play by play and get a stop and get a basket and run the offense and do what we had to do.”
After falling behind three more points than at the half, KU began its significant rally.
Landen Lucas dunked, Mason hit a three, Selden cashed a driving layup, and Mason cashed a layup as KU scored nine straight and sliced nine points off the 18-point deficit in just two minutes, 17 seconds. Florida righted itself, outscored KU, 4-1, and led again by 12 — 49-37 — at 11:33.
Cliff Alexander then hit back-to-back inside shots and Selden an inside shot to cut the gap to six points — 49-43 — at 8:57.
By then, the crowd was into it big-time.
Alexander hit two free throws to answer a Florida three. Then Selden cashed a pair of jumpers to make it 52-49 at 7:07. Alexander iced two more free throws at 6:48, and KU trailed by just one, 52-51.
Ellis tied it at 52 at 6:18, and Selden hit a jumper, which put the Jayhawks ahead to stay, 54-52, at 5:43. The Jayhawks actually stretched the lead to 11 before having some problems closing it out, Florida cutting it to five late.
It’s interesting to note Self had similar comments after the Mizzou comeback and this one.
“We showed some toughness making plays against a team that was on fire.” Self said in 2012 after downing the Tigers.
On Friday, Self, whose squad held the Gators to just one field goal from the 11:33 mark to 1:07, noted: “Tonight we learned that, because we’ll draw from this again, we learned that, hey, no matter what the situation is, it’s a long game. And the guys did play it like it was a long game.
“They played a pretty smart second half. I’ll never give them credit for being as tough as they need to be, but we’re probably a little tougher than what I thought we were going into the game, because the first half I thought we were an extremely soft team and not a real competitive team. But they definitely changed it in the second half.”
The Jayhawks (6-1), who stepped up to hit 21 of 24 free throws the second half (to Florida’s 2-of-4), have to feel positive about themselves whenever their coach acknowledges toughness on the court.
It may be the No. 1 thing he desires in his teams.
“We just came together. That was the biggest thing,” said Selden, who scored a game-high 21 points, 14 the second half. “We’re just trying to build. We’re nowhere near what we’re going to be. We’re just trying to fight until we get there.”
Noted Ellis: “I mean, we need tough games like that as a team to become better. Sometimes games have to be like that.”
Recruiting: Self traveled to Benton, Kentucky, on Saturday for the Marshall County Hoop Fest.
Recruits playing at the Hoop Fest include Malik Newman, 6-foot-3 shooting guard from Callaway High in Jackson, Mississippi, ranked No. 3 in the Class of 2015 by Rivals.com; No. 6 Cheick Diallo, 6-9 forward from Centereach, New York; and No. 14 Carlton Bragg, 6-9 forward from Villa Angela St. Joseph in Cleveland. Thon Maker, the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2016 who is expected to reclassify to 2015, is also at the event. Also competing is Braxton Blackwell, 6-7 junior forward from Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, who is ranked 37th in the Class of 2016.
This, that: The biggest comeback in KU history in a victory (home, road or neutral site) was 22 points in KU’s 88-84 overtime victory over Texas on March 11, 2007. ... Self said Saturday that Frank Mason’s ankle injury was not serious. He had 12 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals in 30 minutes. ... KU will meet Georgetown at 6 p.m. Central time Wednesday in Washington, D.C., before returning to meet Utah at 2:15 p.m. Saturday in Sprint Center. ... KU is 4-2 all-time versus Florida and 1-1 all-time in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. ... Self is 178-9 in games contested in Allen.