Senior guard Elijah Johnson fired off eight points during the 19-1 run as the No. 7 Kansas men’s basketball team erased a 12-point deficit and went on to defeat Chattanooga, 69-55, in the second round of the Edward Jones CBE Hall of Fame Classic inside Allen Fieldhouse Thursday night.
Kansas (2-1) and head coach Bill Self welcomed Chattanooga (1-1) back to Allen Fieldhouse for the first time since Self’s debut on Nov. 21, 2003 for a classic tale of two halves. Led by a 6-for-8 performance from three-point range by sophomore guard Farad Cobb, the Mocs took a 36-28 lead into halftime – marking the largest halftime deficit to a non-conference opponent in the Fieldhouse since trailing by the same margin on Dec. 1, 2005 against Nevada.
After scoring five points in the opening frame, Johnson flipped the first-half, second-half switch to drop 13 points in the final 20 minutes, including a 3-for-3 mark from behind the arc. Conversely, redshirt freshman Ben McLemore had no trouble getting started. The rookie guard scored 12 points in the first half and finished with a team-high 25 points, marking the most points by a freshman since Xavier Henry rattled off 31 points versus LaSalle on Dec. 12, 2009.
Senior center Jeff Withey joined the duo on the leaderboard, chalking up 11 points and 10 rebounds for his eighth career double-double and his second of the season. The senior also added six blocks, while fellow senior Travis Releford added a career-high six assists.
Chattanooga, who entered the evening 3-47 all-time against ranked opponents, came in red-hot against Kansas. The Mocs drained eight three-pointers in the first half, but couldn’t keep it going in the second as the Jayhawks held the visitors to 19 points in the final 20 minutes. Cobb hit just one more three in the second half to end his night with 21 points – all from a 7-for-9 three-point shooting night.
Facing a 42-30 deficit with just over 15 minutes to play, Johnson watched McLemore’s path to the basket, feeding him the ball from the top of the key for an alley-oop dunk. When Releford broke away for a transition layup less than a minute later, KU’s deficit was cut to a single point and the momentum had officially shifted.
With 13:36 remaining in the game, Johnson stepped back and drilled the three that handed his team its first lead since a 2-0 margin to open the game. A McLemore dunk and sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe’s only three of the night brought KU’s scoring run to 19-1. After watching its 42-30 lead dissolve into a 49-30 deficit in less than six minutes, UTC called a timeout.
As the Kansas offense stabilized the lead, the Jayhawk defense held the Mocs without a field goal for more than 12 minutes. Meanwhile, a dunk and a free throw from Withey pushed Kansas’ lead to double figures, 57-46, with six minutes to play.
The first half, however, the game was anything but controlled for the Jayhawks. KU stumbled through early turnover woes, UTC found ways to keep its distance by connecting on nine of the team’s first 19 shots. When Cobb hit the Mocs’ fourth three in the first 10 minutes, Kansas fell behind 22-14 and head coach Bill Self signaled for the evening’s first timeout.
Chattanooga didn’t let up out of the pause, and after calling a timeout of its own, extended the lead to eight while Kansas fell victim to a scoring drought. Nearly five minutes passed between Jayhawk field goals before freshman guard Rio Adams snapped the silence with a layup. Withey followed that with a short-range jumper, but UTC answered immediately with a 6-0 run in less than a minute as the Jayhawks fell behind, 30-20, before the final media timeout.
McLemore worked to cut away at the deficit, drilling his second three of the game, but Cobb responded with back-to-back makes from behind the arc to build the Mocs’ largest lead of the night, 36-24, with two minutes to play. Jumpers from McLemore and senior forward Kevin Young trimmed the deficit to single-digits by halftime, 36-28.
Chattanooga got back after it with two quick threes to open the second half, but Kansas – and its home crowd – roared back with a 7-0 run capped by a Releford steal-turned McLemore dunk. With their lead cut to five, Chattanooga called a timeout, but would never regain the lead as Kansas took over for the remainder of the night.