ST. LOUIS (AP) - Glenn Cosey was ready to head down the tunnel to the court of the Scottrade Center for Eastern Kentucky’s game against Kansas on Friday when he caught the end of Mercer’s upset of Duke.
“It gave me a lot of confidence,” he said, “that anything was possible.”
Cosey and his cohorts nearly added to the madness of this March, keeping the second-seeded Jayhawks on the ropes until the closing minutes of their second-round game. It wasn’t until Kansas finally wore down the 15th-seeded Colonels inside that it pulled away for an 80-69 victory.
“I felt like this was the year of upsets, and we could pull this off,” said Cosey, who hit five 3-pointers and finished with 17 points. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t.”
So the Jayhawks advanced to play No. 10 seed Stanford on Sunday in the South Regional, while Eastern Kentucky (24-10) headed home after having its seven-game win streak come to an end.
“It’s hard for all of us,” Tarius Johnson said, “because we played so hard.”
Johnson had 15 points for the Colonels, who still have never won an NCAA tournament game in eight tries. Eric Stutz also had 15 points, but second-leading scorer Corey Walden was hampered by foul trouble and wound up with just four points on 2-for-3 shooting.
“Corey is a very important part of our team,” Colonels coach Jeff Neubauer said. “With that being said, that’s not an excuse. Kansas really played great.”
Well, good enough.
Andrew Wiggins scored 19 points, Jamari Traylor had 17 points and 14 rebounds, and Perry Ellis added 14 points and 13 boards as the Jayhawks (25-9) dominated the paint.
They did so even without 7-footer Joel Embiid, who is out for the weekend with a back injury.
“We knew against the defense of this team, we had to make good decisions, great plays and throw it inside,” Wiggins said.
Of course, it took the Jayhawks a half to figure all that out.
Like a swarm of gnats, the smaller guards of Eastern Kentucky made life miserable for the turnover-prone Jayhawks in the first 20 minutes. Kansas had more turnovers (10) by the midway point than field goal attempts (9), and at one juncture turned it over on six of eight possessions.
Most of those miscues turned into easy points at the other end.
The Colonels, buoyed by their trademark 3-point shooting, raced out to a 23-14 lead, silencing a heavily pro-Jayhawks crowd and even making some fans out of New Mexico and Stanford folks.
“Our defense is focused on turning people over and being aggressive,” Stutz said. “In that first half, that’s what got us our lead.”
It wasn’t until the first of two rim-rattling dunks by Wiggins off alley-oop passes that Kansas showed some life. The second came during an 8-0 flurry that gave the Big 12 champions a 28-27 lead with just over a minute to play, their first since the opening minute of the game.
It looked like Kansas would pull away when it opened a 45-38 lead in the second half, but rather than pound away inside - where it was having so much success - the team reverted to missing jump shots. The Colonels took advantage with a 10-0 run, and Kansas coach Bill Self called a red-faced timeout rather than risk pulling out his hair.
“We knew that anything could happen,” the Jayhawks’ Conner Frankamp said. “We were down, we tried to stay poised and not get too rattled, and just tried to make the easy play, because we felt like we could score pretty good down low.”
Once they were reminded of that fact.
Kansas went back inside out of the timeout, dumping the ball to a big man or driving to the basket. The Jayhawks regained the lead at 59-56 on Wayne Selden’s free throw and Traylor’s putback dunk, and then kept turning back every 3-pointer that Eastern Kentucky managed to rattle home.
When the final seconds ticked away, and the Jayhawks were assured of advancing, Self slowly walked to the scorer’s table to shake hands with his Eastern Kentucky counterpart. He exhaled deeply as he stuck out his hand, and the first words he said were, “Great game.”
“They played great. They played loose and gave us everything we wanted,” he said later. “It was a hard-fought game, one we had to work our tail off 40 minutes to come out with a win.”
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