Dec. 18, 2007
ATLANTA (AP) — Kansas may be unbeaten, but Bill Self says his team is far from perfect.
Georgia Tech almost proved that point.
Third-ranked Kansas led by 13 points with about 5 minutes left before the Yellow Jackets cut the lead to one with 9 seconds left, but Sherron Collins made two free throws and then had a steal and a layup and the Jayhawks hung on for a 71-66 victory Tuesday night.
“I expected it to be a close game, but I didn’t expect it to go down to the wire when we were up 13,” Self said. “We certainly hurt ourselves late not being able to put the game away with missed free throws.”
Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt burned his last timeout with 2:30 left and so he couldn’t prepare his players for their final possession. Zack Peacock, looking for Matt Causey, made what Hewitt called a tentative pass, and Collins was ready to pounce.
“My eyes got big,” said Collins, who had three of the Jayhawks’ eight steals. “We take pride in our defense.”
Said Hewitt: “I guess it probably could have helped if we had a timeout.”
Self said his players wanted to play defense, instead of foul, with the three-point lead on Georgia Tech’s final possession.
Kansas (11-0) continues to show exceptional scoring balance.
Russell Robinson scored 17 points, becoming the Jayhawks’ seventh different leading scorer in 11 games.
“That’s who we are,” Self said. “We’re not going to have guys who are going to make first-team All-America or anything like that because his stats aren’t going to be like that.”
Perhaps NBA scouts are looking for more than just first-team All-Americans. A total of 31 NBA scouts representing 28 teams watched the game.
Kansas survived, but it couldn’t put the game away after taking a 61-48 lead with 5:21 left.
“They were one of those teams that just wouldn’t go down,” Collins said of the Yellow Jackets. “They’re a tough team.”
Hewitt found no solace in Georgia Tech (4-5) taking the nation’s No. 3 team to the final seconds.
“I thought we were going to win the game,” Hewitt said.
“In my heart and mind, I thought this was our turning-point game. … I don’t take anything away from Kansas, but we did it to ourselves again. You can’t blow as many opportunities as we had.”
The last one was especially crushing.
“It’s very disappointing when you don’t get a shot with 9 seconds to go in a one-possession game,” Hewitt said.
One game after setting a career high with 11 assists in a win over Ohio on Saturday, Robinson set his season high for points. Even with Robinson’s points, the Jayhawks didn’t come close to their average of 85 points per game.
“They did a good job of getting us out of ourselves,” Robinson said, echoing Self’s comments that Tech’s defense and desire to push the tempo forced Kansas to play a smaller lineup than was planned.
Tech outscored Kansas 14-8 on fast-break points and had a 34-29 edge in rebounds.
Collins, Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush all had 11 points for Kansas.
Rush was making his second start as he continues his comeback from knee surgery.
“Defensively, he was pretty good tonight, but offensively he wasn’t very good,” Self said of Rush. “He was very passive. … I just felt that he played on his heels and wasn’t very aggressive at all.
“Health-wise, he’s close, but emotionally and mentally he’s got to trust it more.”
Rush, wearing a brace on his right knee, blocked four shots and had six rebounds.
Lewis Clinch led Georgia Tech with 22 points to match his career high.
Causey hit a 3-pointer with 54 seconds left and, after a missed free throw by Chalmers, added a basket with 32 seconds left to cut the Kansas lead to 67-64.
Robinson missed two free throws with 30 seconds left.
“I thought if we hit our free throws, we’d be all right,” Collins said.
With 9.2 seconds left and the lead still only three points, Chalmers fouled Anthony Morrow, who made both free throws, leaving the Kansas lead at 67-66.
Clinch again sent Collins to the free throw line with 8.2 seconds left. He made two free throws for a 69-66 lead before ending Tech’s hopes with his steal and layup.
Kansas was the highest-ranked team from outside the Atlantic Coast Conference to visit Georgia Tech since 1976 when Tech, then in the Metro Conference, lost to No. 3 Marquette.