STILLWATER, Okla. - The play is called "Flat." That's a perfect description for Kansas' offense in both overtimes and for how Naadir Tharpe had played up to that point. But in a game where the momentum and advantage changed more often than a super model at a fashion show, the play worked.
Tharpe, a 5-11 sophomore, had missed nine of the 10 shots he had attempted and had committed four turnovers. But his team trailed by a point in the second overtime and it was last call for basketball. Tharpe worked his way into the lane against 5-11 freshman Phil Forte, floated a shot that swished.
When Oklahoma State failed to answer, the Jayhawks escaped Gallagher-Iba Arena with a 68-67 victory in double overtime. Kansas (22-4, 10-3) is now tied for first place in the Big 12 Conference with Kansas State. The Cowboys (19-4, 9-4) entered the week in a three-way tie for first and is now alone in second place.
"Coach (Bill Self) told me to go and take him," said Tharpe, who finished 2-of-11. "As soon as it went off my hand I felt it was good. I had been disappointed in myself with how I had played. I let Forte get free for a 3-pointer to tie it and turned it over twice. I kept thinking, 'Next play, next play.'"
There were dozens of "next plays" in a game that featured 23 lead changes. Appropriately for a double overtime game, the score was tied 16 times. Oklahoma State's biggest lead was three; KU's biggest lead was five.
"A very hard fought game ... very hard fought game," said Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford, whose team faces a tough road game at West Virginia Saturday. "I got no complaints. They made the last shot. ... No lie, it was a down locker room. Those were two teams that wanted to win pretty bad."
Oklahoma State's seven-game winning streak ended. The Cowboys had won two overtime games and shocked Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse during the streak. That loss started a three-game slide for the Jayhawks, who have responded with a three-game winning streak.
Kansas scored one field goal - Tharpe's winner - on eight attempts in the two overtimes. The Jayhawks made 9-of-12 free throws while the Cowboys missed five of eight from the line. In this game, every play, each shot, came with its own mood swing.
"We gave up a couple of offensive rebounds, missed some free throws," said Oklahoma States's Markel Brown, who had a game-high 20 and gave his team its last lead. "It's a game that could have gone either way. This one is hard to swallow."
A sequence in the first overtime illustrated the game's teeter totter tendencies. Kansas had a 61-58 lead when Elijah Johnson was fouled driving to the basket. Instead of giving the Jayhawks a five-point lead, he missed both. Brown was then fouled on the next possession. He missed both ... but on the second, KU couldn't control the rebound and Johnson committed his fifth foul, fouling Brown, who then made two free throws.
"It was pretty crazy," Kansas senior Travis Releford said. "We knew it would be a tough game. Being at home, we knew that Oklahoma State would give their best effort. We had to tough it out. And we did."
Releford scored 14 of his 18 points after halftime to lead Kansas. Jeff Withey had 17 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots. Releford made two senior plays to help seal the win. He drew a charge that was the fifth foul on the Cowboys' Marcus Smart with 2:24 left in the second overtime. And after Brown's final shot came up short, Forte fumbled away the rebound and Releford tracked down the loose ball.
"I saw him leave his feet and it was a great opportunity to take one," Releford said of drawing the charge on Smart, who had 16 points but missed 12 of 14 shots. "(Elijah Johnson) was telling me the guys who were in foul trouble and it worked out he was driving and I could take one for the team."
Kansas leads Division I in field goal percentage defense and they held the Cowboys to 32.8 percent from the field. Oklahoma State's quickness and length bothered the Jayhawks. In particular, the Cowboys' three-quarter court pressure forced KU to burn time off the shot clock and further bogged down the Jayhawks' half-court offense.
"We never play good offense here," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "We labored against that trap, we need to get better at that. We didn't have any offense, neither team had any offense."
Even KU's final offensive possession was a semi-disaster.
"We had a play called, we couldn't get the ball inbounded," Self said. "Then we just puttered around. We called the play ... Naadir probably made the biggest play of his life right there."
"I don't know if I've ever been a game that's been like that," Self said, noting the box score stats on the small leads, lead changes and ties. "So many things that could have gone the other way. It was a huge win for conference implications."
Kansas is at home against TCU Saturday before playing at Iowa State in a Big Monday contest that might crack the foundation of Hilton Coliseum. Critics can Snark/Tweet all they like, but it's hard to beat the Big 12 for its entertainment value.