I spent most ofthe night on Twitter lamenting the game being played by Kansas sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe. I questioned his shot selection, his passing, his defense, his hair, his sneakers.
But it was Tharpe who had the last laugh by making KU’s last shot in a 68-67, double-overtime win against Oklahoma State in Stillwater.
I’m in disbelief.
Tharpe was so bad in the second half that Kansas coach Bill Self chose not to have him in the game during the first overtime. But when Elijah Johnson fouled out toward the end of the first OT, Tharpe was back.
And he wasn’t good.
But when the Jayhawks needed someone to step up and make a shot – something no KU player had done in either overtime, believe it or not – Tharpe came through. His spin move inside the lane resulted in the go-ahead basket with about 10 seconds left and the Jayhawks’ defense, led by Travis Releford, made a last stand to preserve the win.
I still don’t know how the Jayhawks won, except that Oklahoma State was atrocious offensively. The Cowboys shot 33 percent and made just 4 of 21 three-pointers. Credit KU’s defense, the same D that allowed OSU 85 points during a loss in Lawrence earlier this month.
Releford was great, with 18 points, six rebounds and his typical tough defensive game against OSU’s Markell Brown, who had to work overtime in a coal mine to come up with his 20 points.
Center Jeff Withey was great, with 17 points (11 of them at the free-throw line), 14 rebounds and four blocks. How big of a bonus is it for Kansas that its 7-footer can shoot free throws the way Withey can? The Jayhawks don’t win if he’s a typical big-man clanker.
Kevin Young had a nice game and so did guard Elijah Johnson, who badly needed one.
Which brings me to redshirt freshman Ben McLemore, the most talented Jayhawk in years. McLemore, though, didn’t have it against Oklahoma State. I’m sure he wanted it. He took one ill-advised shot in the two overtimes, an air ball from the deep corner. He rarely touched the ball, even.
There are times, most times, when McLemore looks like an All-American. But he has a tendency to play quietly, even with a game that screams. And that confuses me. He’s the one KU player capable of taking over a game offensively, and he has shown he’s capable of doing that. Remember Iowa State? That’s the best example of what kind of wrecking ball McLemore can swing.
There was no destruction in his heart tonight, though.
Imagine McLemore with Tharpe’s conscience, or lack thereof.
I’ll give Tharpe this: He’s fearless.
As Tharpe wheeled and dealed on KU’s final possession, looking to create a shot, I imagined KU fans standing up, pulling their hair and screaming at him to pass the basketball. As he let the shot fly, I imagined a very different Lawrence than the one that will still stand today.
Tharpe had been 1 for 10 before taking that huge shot. Someplace, someone convinced Tharpe he was a tremendous shooter. And whoever that was should have a prominent place in American government because he/she is a power persuader.
But Tharpe’s shot was good. And it was one heck of a shot, too.
There was a doghouse being constructed somewhere in which he would have lived for the rest of his life had the shot missed. But it didn’t. It really didn’t.
Tharpe’s confidence in himself should be a lesson for every young person in America. Keep shooting, even when everyone tells you not to. Be confident in yourself, even when others aren’t. Take control, even as panic sets in amongst a fan base.
If you’ve watched Kansas play this season, you know Tharpe didn’t just roll out this incredible self-assured attitude tonight. He’s had it all season. And it has served him well in several games in which he has performed well.
But performing well isn’t a prerequisite to Sharp’s self-confidence, as was evidenced with his play tonight. He’s a believer, whether we are or not.
While we’re patting people on the back, let’s give one to KU coach Bill Self, who has stuck with Tharpe through thick and thin. It’s not really like he’s had a choice because of the thinness of the Jayhawks’ backcourt.
Tharpe rewarded him with a big-time, game-winning shot. Instead of being toast, Tharpe is the toast of Lawrence. KU fans might have to swallow hard, but they have to love the kid.