Late on Wednesday night, No. 9 ranked Kansas (22-4; 10-3) delivered a strong message to its Big 12 foes. The Jayhawks, facing a daunting task in Stillwater, defeated Oklahoma State, 68-67 in double overtime. Naadir Tharpe's jumper with 18 seconds remaining in the second overtime session not only won the game or Kansas, but was the first game winning shot of his career.
"I think we live and die with about seven of them (players)," said Kansas head coach Bill Self following KU's double-overtime victory over Oklahoma State on Wednesday night. "Tonight, he (Naadir Tharpe) couldn't get the ball in the basket, and he's actually improved his little floater shot, but the one shot he made, if I'm not mistaken, was a twist and layup that was really hard.
"He's really a good shooter, but hasn't shot it great yet," he added. "We didn't have any offense, neither team had any offense, and he certainly made a huge play there late. It was just huge, and the biggest play of his life, I'm sure."
For a majority of Wednesday night's Big 12 clash between No. 9 Kansas and No. 14 ranked Oklahoma State, neither team was able to gain an edge on the scoreboard. KU's largest lead of the game was five at the 14:50 mark in the second half, while OSU led by three points with 7:22 remaining in the first half.
Like two prized heavyweight fighters, Kansas and Oklahoma State traded blows, and following the first half, were tied at 26 apiece. The Jayhawks, up four points, 57-53, with 1:49 left in the second half, were close to delivering the knockout blow late in the contest, but Jeff Withey's layup wouldn't drop, and the Cowboys tied the game with 1:23 remaining in the second half.
Kansas, in the first overtime, took a three-point lead following two free-throws from Withey, but the Jayhawks were unable to build on their lead following a turnover by Kevin Young. Once again, Kansas took a three point lead on two free-throws by Travis Releford, but Phil Forte's three pointer tied the game.
With a few seconds remaining in overtime, Releford missed a layup, which would have given Kansas a two point lead, and appeared to be fouled, but nothing was call, and Kansas and Oklahoma State were headed for a second overtime.
Kansas, with Elijah Johnson on the bench with five fouls, would have to find a way to win on the road without its senior point guard. The Jayhawks, in double-overtime, did just that.
Trailing by two points at the beginning of the second overtime, Kansas locked down on the defensive end of the court and, with 1:02 left in the second overtime, took the lead, 66-65, when Withey stepped to the free-throw line and converted two shots.
With 49 seconds on the clock, Markel Brown's jumper gave Oklahoma State its final lead of the game. Following a 30 second timeout, Tharpe, after what looked to be a shaky possession, drove to the basket, twisted in the lane and watched as his shot dropped through the net. With just 18 seconds remaining, Kansas led Oklahoma State by one point, 68-67.
The Cowboys, with plenty of time remaining on the clock and no timeouts, drove the ball down the court and, when Brown's shot came-up short, in large part do to Releford's smothering defense, Forte grabbed the rebound and, at the time, looked to be in position to score.
However, Releford tapped the ball, and as Forte tried to throw it off Releford, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound guard from Kansas City, Mo., tiptoed the baseline and tossed the ball to McLemore as time expired on the clock.
Kansas, despite hitting just one field goal in the last 10 minutes, walked off the Gallagher-Iba Area court with its biggest win of the regular season. Shortly after KU's double-overtime victory, Tharpe talked about his game-winning shot.
"At the end of the shot clock, it's a simple play that we always run called flat," said Tharpe. "Coach (Self) told me to just go and take it, so like I said, I missed some easy shots earlier in the game and for some reason, as soon as it went off my hand, I felt it was good. A lot of people tell me it's a big time shot. I'm still disappointed in previous plays, but at the end of the day, we won the game.
"That's what we came here to do, so I'm just thankful for that," he added.
In defeating Oklahoma State, Releford scored a team-high 18 points, while Withey added 17 points and 14 rebounds and Johnson finished with 10 points. Young went for 8 points and 11 rebounds, Ben McLemore chipped in seven points and Tharpe and Jamari Traylor scored four points apiece.
It wasn't pretty, but with just five regular season games remaining, KU's win against OSU in Stillwater couldn't have been any bigger.
"It's a huge win for conference implications," said Self. "I really thought that Oklahoma State had the best path. I'm not saying we couldn't have won it, but we now still have the toughest road of anybody. We're still in the game, though. This was huge today. Oklahoma State is terrific. They've got a terrific team, they're coached great and the crowd was great.
"I still have good memories from being here when this place was rocking," he added. "It was definitely rocking tonight. We couldn't communicate and we couldn't hear. Our guys played timid the first half, but at least we guarded. In the second half, we played a little better. We just kind of hung on. It was a hard-fought game."