LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP)—Cornell held its poise in one of the most intimidating places in college basketball, ignored the rafter-rattling crowd and shook off nearly every challenge from the nation’s No. 1 team.
Only one person stood in the way of a monumental upset by the two-time Ivy League champions: Sherron Collins. He was just enough to pull Kansas through.
Playing with an aggressiveness he hasn’t needed in a senior season filled with blowouts, Collins had a career-high 33 points and made nearly every key play down the stretch to help the top-ranked Jayhawks avoid the upset with a 71-66 victory Wednesday night.
“Tonight was like a tournament game,” Collins said. “When things aren’t going good, you just have to find a way to win and I was that way to win. I didn’t want to let us lose and wasn’t going to let us lose.”
Facing being on the wrong end of one of college basketball’s biggest upsets, and with the nation’s longest home winning streak in jeopardy, Collins showed why this is still his team.
Cornell (12-3) dictated the game from the start. The Big Red kept the fast-breaking Jayhawks grounded by turning it into a grind. Never intimidated by playing in one of college basketball’s most famous gyms, the Big Red forced Kansas to grit one out at Allen Fieldhouse instead of running away with another easy win.
Cornell made nine 3-pointers, got 24 points from Ryan Wittman and stayed in front well into the second half. It just wasn’t enough to keep their 10-game winning streak going.
“We did everything we can except win the basketball game,” Cornell coach Steve Donahue said.
Kansas (14-0) overcame a rare off night from the field—36 percent—and shoddy defense in the first half to pull off one of the toughest victories during its 51-game home winning streak.
Xavier Henry had 14 points and four steals, Brady Morningstar hounded Cornell sharpshooter Ryan Wittman throughout the second half and Tyrel Reed hit arguably the biggest shot of his career for Kansas.
Collins made it all possible.
He kept the Jayhawks close almost by himself in the first half, shaking and baking his way to 14 points, then took over completely as Kansas scrapped most of its offense to get the ball to him on nearly every possession. Collins scored nine straight points late in the game and had a assist on Reed’s 3-pointer in the closing minutes to keep Kansas undefeated.
“He’s one of those guys who’s really deferred to get everybody else involved, but everybody on our team knows who the guy is at crunch time,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He’s done a good job of involving other guys, but tonight was his night to go out and make plays. He put us on his back.”
Trailing 58-52 with just over 8 minutes left, Kansas put together the kind of run No. 1 teams make. Turning up the pressure at both ends, the Jayhawks went on an 11-2 spurt to go up 63-60.
The Big Red weren’t impressed.
Louis Dale scored on a backdoor cut, Cornell held and Jeff Foote powered his way inside, putting them up one with 50 seconds left.
Collins, of course, had the answer.
He shrugged off a slap foul to complete a three-point play that put Kansas up 66-64 with 41 seconds left, then kept Cornell at bay by making three free throws in the final 25 seconds left to seal it.
“Collins took over at every critical time and he made big shots,” Donahue said.
Kansas took apart one of the nation’s best defenses its last game, shooting 54 percent in a 32-point win over then-No. 18 Temple on Saturday in its first game against a ranked opponent.
Call this one the Owl hangover.
Sloppy on offense, occasionally absent-minded on defense, Kansas found itself in a fight against a school from a conference it hadn’t lost to in 13 previous tries.
Early on, the Jayhawks played as if they were cold from the blizzard outside, shooting poorly, one rebound after another slipping through their hands.
The sloppy start Self looking for someone—or something—to take it out on.
First, he screamed at his players when they failed to block out on three straight shots. Self then took it out on the scorer’s table, slamming his hand down after freshman Thomas Robinson lost the ball dribbling in traffic.
The officials were next; Self called a timeout after Alex Tyler scored on a drive and, in the same motion, walked across the court to scream: “That’s a walk right in front of you!” That earned Self a technical foul and put the Big Red up 18-14 after Wittman hit one free throw.
If the technical was meant to inspire the Jayhawks, it didn’t work.
The Big Red went into halftime with a 41-38 lead—the first time Kansas has trailed at the half this season—and kept making shots to stay in front, answering everything Kansas threw at them.
Well, almost everything.
“When we saw (Collins), we got out of the way,” Henry said. “He didn’t really say too much to us. We just knew when he got the ball he was going to take care of it.”