Down 15 points at halftime to North Carolina, at least one Kansas Jayhawk looked to their game against Kansas State earlier this season for inspiration.
That game was on Jan. 22 in Manhattan, a game the Jayhawks won, 78-75. But, of course, you have to dig deeper than that to see the significance and the parallels to Monday’s national championship win over North Carolina, 72-69.
The Jayhawks were down 16 points at halftime to Kansas State in that contest. At the time, the Wildcats — most specifically guard Nijel Pack — couldn’t do anything wrong. Pack ended up with 35 points and eight 3-pointers in that game.
Kansas, meanwhile, was in deep trouble, just as it was against the Tar Heels, down 40-25 at halftime.
Ochai Agbaji — who rescued the Jayhawks that day in Manhattan and was the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player — felt his mind drift back to that game.
“I would say it kind of just took us back to when we were at K-State,” Agbaji said. “The message was obviously different. Coach (Bill Self), he obviously challenged us and he was amped up in there.”
Against Kansas State, the Jayhawks rallied and it ended up becoming their biggest come-from-behind win in program history by halftime deficit. Kansas did it with a 9-0 run to end the game, with Agbaji hitting some big shots down the stretch. His go-ahead layup with nine seconds left gave Kansas a one-point lead and he ended up with a then-career high 29 points.
Agbaji didn’t have to play the hero on Monday night. He had help, and that was probably the biggest difference.
Agbaji had just 12 points on Monday night, even though he took the Final Four’s top player prize. But four other Jayhawks finished in double figures — David McCormack and Jalen Wilson each had 15 points, Remy Martin had 14 points off the bench, and Christian Braun had 12 points. Braun also had 12 rebounds, while McCormack had 10 rebounds, giving both double-doubles.
Braun, Martin and Wilson had 32 points in the second half.
“In the second half, I just came in there, tried to make something happen and shot the shots with confidence and just tried to make plays,” said Martin, who hit three 3-pointers in the second half, all of which had a hand in the comeback, including one that gave Kansas a lead.
The deficit to UNC might have been the most Kansas was rattled since that come-from-behind win over K-State.
“I would say — I said this a couple of days ago in media, with the group of guys as experienced as this and been around and know each other so well, it’s kind of hard to see us get rattled,” Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot said. “And I think we bounced back at halftime.”
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.