NEW ORLEANS - When it was over, the seat cushions flew and floated and zipped through the air toward the elevated court. Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, his national championship dream denied, collapsed on his back, his jersey pulled over his head. And Kansas coach Bill Self smiled with an expression of "I can't (fill in the blank) believe this."
What was it that Baylor's Robert Griffin III said of his Heisman Trophy - unbelievably believable?
Is it unbelievable that Kansas has reached the national championship game? We are talking about the second-winningest program in college basketball history. This isn't Butler or another Cinderella. This is Kansas, making its 14th Final Four trip and Monday night seeking the fourth national title in school history.
"I can't believe this," Self said an hour after Kansas 64, Ohio State 62 was frozen on the Mercedes-Benz Superdome scoreboard. "Of all the teams, this one is playing for the national championship."
The Jayhawks' chalk has been rocked in March Madness. The 1997 top-seeded team lost in the regional final, the next year losing in the second round as a No. 1, the 2009 team being stunned in the second round, last year's top-seeded team losing to Virginia Commonwealth in the regional final.
"I'm shocked. I never thought we'd be playing for a national championship,'' said Kansas junior Thomas Robinson, who scored a game-high 19. "The last two teams I've been on, they were probably the best teams I've ever been part of. I never thought I'd be on a team like that again, but those teams never got where we are.''
Kansas has made it this far. Monday night the second-seeded Jayhawks (32-6) will face Kentucky (37-2), the overall No. 1 seed. The Wildcats disposed of their in-state rival Louisville in the first semifinal, 69-61. In the preseason, with one starter returning, the Jayhawks were ranked No. 13. They were not - repeat, not - favored to be playing in the final game of the 2011-12 season.
"In October, I was confident we could get this far but in the back of mind it was more, 'I don't know, man .... it's gonna be a long shot," said Tyshawn Taylor, the only player returning from last year's team. "But we're here now. We might as well go win it."
Much like their season, there was reason to doubt during Saturday night's semifinal with the second-seeded Buckeyes (31-8). Ohio State took control by attacking KU's defense. The Buckeyes embarked on a 13-4 run midway through the first half to build a 26-13 lead. Ohio State was 5-of-10 from 3-point range and made three during that spurt.
"It looked like we were playing in quicksand," Self said. "They dominated us the first half."
There hasn't been a game-winning buzzer beater yet in this NCAA Tournament, but Kansas trailed only 34-25 at halftime thanks to a crucial buzzer-beater.
After Jeff Withey got one of his Final Four-record seven blocked shots on an Aaron Craft drive, the ball found its way to Taylor with about three seconds remaining. Travis Releford, who played an outstanding game, was streaking toward the basket.
"I saw Ty had the ball and I just put my head down and ran as fast as I could," he said.
Releford's layup beat the clock and provided a jumper cable boost to a team that had played with a dead battery for most of the first 20 minutes.
"If being down is what it takes for us to play our best, so be it," Taylor said. "We've been in that position before and we're confident when we're behind."
Ohio State shot 46 percent in the first half while Kansas made just 36.7 percent of its shots. In the second half, the Jayhawks were able to flip the script. The Buckeyes were just 8-of-33 (24.2 percent) while Kansas made 14-of-26 (53.8 percent).
Withey was a huge factor. He spent most of the game guarding Sullinger. The Buckeyes' leading scorer had 13 but missed 14 of 19 shots. On one possession, Withey rejected him twice. Sullinger was so frustrated, he shot and missed two 3-pointers.
"'That's not a normal shooting day for me," Sullinger said. "Sometimes it happens. The ball rolls that way. We still had a chance to win this game."
Releford, who is 64 percent from the line this season, made all four of his free throws over the last 2:48, twice giving Kansas a one-point lead and the last coming with 1:37 remaining.
On the next possession, Sullinger was at the 3-point line and being guarded by Withey. He passed to the 6-6 William Buford, who had position on the 6-3 Taylor. Buford went up for the layup but Withey covered the 15 feet from Sullinger to Buford and blocked the shot.
"I turned around, jumped up, put my arm out and I hit the ball," Withey said.
So simple, yet so important. Elijah Johnson picked up the loose ball and drove for a difficult layup to give the Jayhawks a 62-59 lead with 1:12 remaining.
Taylor's two free throws with 8.3 seconds remaining countered an Ohio State basket and made it 64-61. Taylor appeared to seal the victory when he stole the Buckeyes' inbound pass in the back court but he threw it away trying to hit Johnson cutting to the basket.
"I should have just kept but I was trying to get it out of my hands and I saw my man Elijah," he said.
"The steal he got after he made his free throws were huge," Self said. "Then, of course, he passed it to me on the sideline, which wasn't smart."
With a three-point edge, Kansas fouled Aaron Craft with 2.9 seconds remaining to prevent Ohio State attempting a game-tying 3-pointer. Craft made the first and intentionally missed the second. Craft crashed the lane and got the rebound but was called for a lane violation. The Buckeyes, inexplicably, allowed Kansas to inbound the ball and run out the clock.
"It's a dream for these kids to play on the biggest stage that college basketball has to offer," Self said. "I think it's even more of a thrill for us right now because I don't think anybody probably thought that we could get here. We still hadn't played terrific yet in the tournament, but somehow these guys find ways to win games."