KANSAS CITY, Mo. – – – Ochai Agbaji was a little-regarded three-star prospect when he left his home in Kansas City, Mo., four long years ago to play top-flight college basketball just down the street. street in Kansas.
Agbaji returned home this weekend as the Big 12 Player of the Year, then appeared in front of hundreds of friends and family at the Big 12 Tournament, leading the sixth-place Jayhawks to a victory of 74-65 over Texas Tech on Saturday night to capture not only the title for his team, but also MVP honors for himself.
“I’m just lucky to be in this position, but I give it back to my teammates,” said Agbaji, the fifth player in history to win regular-season player of the year and the highest honor of the tournament. I wouldn’t have done anything without them.
They couldn’t have done it without him.
Agbaji scored 16 points, including a few foul shots with just over a minute to play, to lift the Jayhawks (27-6) past the plucky Red Raiders (25-9) and likely secure a No. No. 1 at next week’s NCAA Tournament. .
David McCormack added 18 points and 11 rebounds, Christian Braun had 14 points and Jalen Wilson and Remy Martin scored 12 apiece for the Jayhawks (27-6), who showed balance and resilience from a group of veteran players in the final minutes as the Red Raiders missed their own title shot.
Texas Tech trailed 63-58 with about four minutes to go when Terrence Shannon Jr. was called for a charge. Kevin Obanor turned the ball over on the Red Raiders’ next possession, then crossed the baseline while trying to drive the ball in for another turnover, each of which allowed the Jayhawks to pull away on the stretch.
The very pro-Kansas crowd began their haunting “Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk” chant with 28.6 seconds left, and coach Bill Self’s team won its 12th conference tournament title since the inception of the league in 1996-97.
“I thought it was a great game,” Self said. “In the first half, we couldn’t stop them, they couldn’t stop us. I don’t think the second half was artistic either way, but we made some really good tough plays when we needed it.
Shannon finished with 14 points and Bryson Williams had 17 for the Red Raiders (25-9), who have yet to win the Big 12 tournament. They also lost to Oklahoma State in their only other championship appearance. in 2005.
“It’s a team that is extremely difficult to prepare for,” said Texas Tech coach Mark Adams, “and I wish I had two or three days to do it. They play at a good pace and they have a lot of players doing things extremely well.
The teams, which finished a game apart in the Big 12, played out a pair of nip-and-tuck classics during the regular season, each winning at home. Their game at Allen Fieldhouse was perhaps the best in the league all year, a back-and-forth that lasted two overtime hours before the Jayhawks escaped with the win.
How tied were they on Saturday night?
Neither team scored more than five straight points in the first half. Neither led by more than four. Neither has scored more than two baskets in a row without the other team providing some sort of response on the other end.
Even when it looked like Kansas was gaining momentum and Martin knocked down a long jumper to make it 37-33 in the final minute, Williams provided a 3-pointer in response to keep the Red Raiders one point away. at halftime.
It remained tight throughout the second half.
When Kansas took a five-point lead, Shannon and the Red Raiders responded with seven straight points. When Texas Tech took a 54-51 lead with 11:20 to go, Wilson and Agbaji – the tournament MVP – provided back-to-back buckets that started a 12-2 charge and gave the Jayhawks a 63 lead. -56 with less than five minutes left.
Kansas kept control of the rest of the course as the Red Raiders began to crack under the pressure.
“These guys I’m coaching all have tears in their eyes,” said Big 12 Coach of the Year Adams. prepare for the NCAA Tournament.”
Texas Tech was still within 64-60 with 3:06 remaining, but Kansas scored the next six as the Red Raiders continued to wilt under pressure. It was a stunning departure from the norm for a team that starts a junior (Shannon) alongside five seniors and has played many close games this season.
Kansas overcame a poor performance from beyond the arc (3 for 22) by doing the little things: The Jayhawks took care of the ball, made the extra pass and went to the foul line. They were 25 of 32 on their free throws, including big ones from Agbaji – the league’s player of the year – when the result was on the line.
It’s selection time on Sunday. The Jayhawks have their eye on one of the four No. 1 seeds while the Red Raiders could land as high as the No. 2 line after their spirited run to the Big 12 Tournament title game.