As the last minute of the game ticked away, the No. 7 Kansas defense held No. 14 Michigan State scoreless for 34 seconds before a layup in the final second of the shot clock handed the Spartans the last lead of the evening to defeat KU in the the State Farm Champions Classic Tuesday night, 67-64.
Kansas (1-1) led for a near 21-minute stretch, spanning the first and second halves, until Michigan State (1-1) received a second-half boost from Keith Appling. The junior guard scored 16 second-half points – including the five points in the final 1:36 – to shift a back-and-forth game to Michigan State’s favor for good. Appling finished with a game-high 19 points.
Neither team led by double-digits in a tightly-contested matchup that saw 11 lead changes. KU’s offensive production was led by senior guard Elijah Johnson. In his 100th start as a Jayhawk, Johnson finished with 16 points, four rebounds and three steals. Redshirt junior guard Ben McLemore was right behind with a career-high 14 points and three assists. Seniors Jeff Withey and Travis Releford added eight points apiece.
Although Kansas shot 50 percent (24-for-48) on the evening, the Jayhawks allowed Michigan State to hit 25 of its 48 shots (52 percent). The Spartans became just the seventh of KU’s last 186 teams faced to shoot 50 percent or better.
Making his second start in as many chances, McLemore showed early that the big-time atmosphere would have little effect on the freshman. He hit the Jayhawks’ first three of the evening to tie the game heading into the first media timeout, 9-9.
The teams would hold each other within a handful of points, continuously having an answer to one another to set the tone for the evening.
After Michigan State answered a three from Johnson with one of its own, the Jayhawks received a boost from the bench. Redshirt freshman forward Jamari Traylor and junior forward Justin Wesley put in back-to-back buckets to push Kansas to its largest lead to that point, 33-28, heading into the final media timeout of the half. As Withey was relegated to the bench with foul trouble, Traylor struck again with his defensive prowess, quickly planting his feet to draw a charge on Harris.
Traylor’s biggest impact, however, occurred with less than a minute to play. The Chicago, Ill., followed Johnson’s shot and grabbed the offensive rebound for the put-back dunk that sent Kansas to halftime with the 35-32 lead.
A strong move to the basket resulted in a Johnson layup and tied the largest lead for either team to that point, 37-32, to kick off the second half. The senior leader’s second three-pointer of the night extended the night’s largest lead further, 40-34.
The back-and-forth drama from the first half was far from forgotten as the Spartans had their deficit cut to two before the first media timeout. Although Kansas would get a crucial three-point bucket from sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe to surge ahead to the largest lead of the evening, 45-38, the Spartans would charge back with a 6-0 run. With their lead cut to one, seniors Johnson and Withey stepped up with back-to-back baskets to stop the run, setting the stage for a back-and-forth finish.
Appling’s second three-pointer of the game handed Michigan State its first lead since pulling ahead 24-22 with eight minutes to play in the first half. Again Kansas answered as seniors Releford and Withey strung together a 6-0 run to shoot back in front, 59-58 – but Appling would be back. His third three of the night combined with his late-second layup gave Michigan State the 67-64 lead.
No. 7 Kansas will play No. 14 Michigan State in the State Farm Champions Classic at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN. The Jayhawks will return to Allen Fieldhouse to take on Chattanooga on Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. in the second game of the CBE Classic.