ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky University men’s basketball team gave No. 2 seed Kansas all it could handle before falling to the heavily-favored Jayhawks, 80-69, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday at the Scottrade Center.
EKU (24-10) pulled to within three points of KU (25-9), 64-61, on a jumper in the lane by junior Corey Walden with 3:39 to play. However, a three-point play by Jamari Traylor on the opposite end sparked a decisive 12-0 Jayhawks run that was capped by a thunderous Andrew Wiggins dunk that made it 76-64 with 44 seconds on the clock.
“I just told our team in the locker room that I am incredibly proud to be their coach and they have done a phenomenal job this season,” head coach Jeff Neubauer said following the defeat. “The way they will be remembered is as champions.”
Senior Glenn Cosey led EKU in the near-upset with 17 points, 14 of which came in a dazzling first-half performance. Senior Tarius Johnson and junior Eric Stutz contributed 15 points apiece. Walden, the MVP of the OVC Tournament and EKU’s defensive stopper, was saddled with foul trouble the entire game and scored only four points before fouling out with 3:19 remaining.
The Colonels knocked down 12 three-pointers in the loss.
Wiggins paced five Jayhawks in double figures with 19 points. Kansas shot 60 percent (32-of-53) from the field and out-rebounded EKU, 43-19.
EKU led for most of the first half, as Cosey knocked down his first three three-point attempts to give the Colonels a quick 13-6 advantage.
After Kansas pulled to within two, 14-12, an offensive put-back by Johnson sparked a 9-2 run by EKU that ended when Cosey buried his fourth three-pointer to give the Colonels their largest lead of the first half, 23-14, with 8:45 on the clock.
Eastern led 27-20 with 4:22 remaining in the half, but Kansas used an 8-0 run to take the lead, 28-27, on a pair of free throws by Wiggins with 1:22 to play.
KU held that lead until senior Orlando Williams was fouled shooting a three-pointer in the waning seconds of the half. Williams converted two free throws to make it a tie game, 32-32, at the break.
EKU forced Kansas into 14 turnovers in the first half.
Kansas took a seven-point lead, 45-38, on a dunk by Tarik Black just over four minutes into the second half, but EKU did not back down. The Colonels responded with a 10-0 run and retook the lead, 48-45, when Johnson buried a three-pointer from the wing with 12:55 on the clock.
EKU’s final lead came when senior Jeff Johnson connected on a three-pointer from the top of the key to make it 56-53 in favor of the Colonels with 9:13 to play. Traylor tied it with a three-point play on KU’s next possession and the Jayhawks led the rest of the way.
Kansas turned the ball over only three times in the second half. The Jayhawks will advance to play No. 10 Stanford on Sunday.