Sixteen seconds was all he needed. To break open what had been a tightly-contested game, freshman guard Andrew Wiggins pulled up for a jumper and then a breakaway dunk to push No. 5/6 Kansas’ lead to five points – and ultimately the win – against No. 4/4 Duke in front of 22,000-plus fans Tuesday night’s nightcap of the State Farm Champions Classic inside the United Center.
With the stage of a late-round NCAA Tournament game and the experience of teams just two games into their respective seasons, Kansas (2-0) overcame foul trouble and turnovers to put on a show against Duke (1-1) in its first top-five matchup since the 2012 national championship game, against fellow Champions Classic participant, Kentucky. The only team without a win in Champions Classic changed that on Tuesday as Kansas topped Duke for the first time in the Bill Self era.
The coveted matchup of the country’s best freshmen in KU’s Wiggins and Duke’s Jabari Parker ended in favor of the Jayhawk rookie. The two combined for 13 points in the game’s opening minutes, but fouls quickly interrupted. Wiggins was whistled with his second foul with 9:30 still on the first-half game clock, sidelining him for the rest of the half. By halftime, Parker led all scorers with 19 points, while Wiggins had six points in his nine minutes on the court.
The second half played out much differently, however, this time with Wiggins outscoring Parker 16-8 – including six points in the final 93 seconds to completely change the game. Wiggins finished the night 9-of-15 from the floor for 22 points and eight rebounds. Parker led all scorers with 27 points and collected nine boards.
Wiggins’ late game heroics didn’t overshadow a career-high night for sophomore forward Perry Ellis. He finished one rebound shy of his second career double-double with a career-best 24 points and nine rebounds. Joining him on the leaderboard were freshmen guards Wayne Selden, Jr. and Frank Mason, who put up 15 points apiece. Mason did his damage at the free-throw line, going 11-for-12.
Senior forward Tarik Black was whistled for his second foul not yet three minutes into the game and back-to-back Kansas turnovers saw the Jayhawks fall behind out of the gate, 8-2. A hot start for the Blue Devils was quickly negated by an 11-2 Kansas run, highlighted by dunks from Wiggins and sophomore forward Jamari Traylor in two-straight possessions. A three from Parker broke up the scoring drought that the Kansas defense held for more than four minutes.
Midway through the opening frame, the teams held each other close to the vest. Where Kansas had nine field goals, Duke had eight. Where Parker had seven points, Wiggins had six. A streak of four trips down the floor saw the top-five teams score on each other in succession. KU kept it going, scoring on six-straight possessions – highlighted by five points from Greene – to take a 30-26 lead into the eight-minute media timeout.
Ellis made it seven-straight out of the pause to see the Jayhawks to their largest lead of the half, 34-28. By streak’s end, Kansas was shooting a blistering 68.4 percent with just under four minutes left till the break – almost entirely without Wiggins. His second foul with nine and a half minutes relegated him to the bench with Black for the remainder of the opening frame.
Parker took advantage in his counterpart’s absence, knocking down a pair of three-pointers in less than 30 seconds to put his team back in front, but only for a moment. Kansas kept pace without Wiggins, due in large part to the Jayhawks’ calmness at the free throw line. Although the Jayhawks were held without a field goal for the final five minutes of the half, Ellis and Mason combined to go a perfect 6-for-6 in the closing moments to knot the score with less than a minute to play. Duke couldn’t say the same, missing four of their final six tries from the line. Two makes from junior guard Quinn Cook was all that separated the Jayhawks from the Blue Devils at half time, 42-40.
Ready to pounce after spending the back end of the first half on the bench, Wiggins socred KU’s first bucket 10 seconds into the second half and tie the game at 42-42.
As expected, foul calls wasted no time in becoming a repeat issue. Black, who was forced to sit 17 of the game’s first 20 minutes, started the second half and was almost immediately issued his third foul and the starter ended his night scoreless. Traylor, meanwhile, committed his fourth to spark a three-point play for the Blue Devils to see them take a 56-51 lead.
Kansas was unfazed. With Ellis and Wiggins steering the ship, the Jayhawks broke loose for a 10-4 run. Ellis, Embiid and Wiggins sandwiched dunks around a Mason jump shot to climb back in front for the 12-minute media timeout. Midway through the final half, the stage for a tight finale was set with a one-point Kansas advantage, 61-60.
This rang true for the next seven minutes as neither team could break open a lead larger than two points following Ellis’ dunk. Leading 68-67, with seven minutes to play, the Jayhawks were handed another dose of foul trouble as Wiggins was called for his fourth. The impact was hardly felt, thanks to the continued attack from the Jayhawks at the free throw line. Using foul trouble to its advantage, Kansas scored all but two of its points from the charity stripe for a four-minute stretch to take a 79-77 advantage out of the final media timeout. Selden and Traylor stopped the free-throw trend with back-to-back buckets in the paint to pull ahead, 83-81, with less than two minutes to play.
Just like that, Wiggins’ flipped the switch. Two-straight buckets in less than 20 seconds turned KU’s two-point lead to six with 1:17 to play. He scored six points in the final 93 seconds to seal the Jayhawks first win over a top-five team since knocking off fourth-ranked UNC in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
No. 5/6 Kansas returns home to host Iona on Tuesday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. in Allen Fieldhouse. The KU-Iona game will be televised on Jayhawk IMG Television/ESPN3 and ESPN Full Court.