By LUKE MEREDITH
AMES, Iowa — Kansas coach Bill Self has 500 wins because Elijah Johnson “blacked out.”
That’s the only way Johnson could describe one of the great performances by a Kansas player under Self.
Johnson scored a career-high 39 points — including eight in the final 29 seconds of regulation and 12 in overtime — and No. 6 Kansas rallied to beat Iowa State 108-96 on Monday night for Self’s milestone victory.
Travis Releford added 19 points for the Jayhawks (24-4, 12-3 Big 12), who snapped Iowa State’s 22-game home winning streak and kept pace with No. 13 Kansas State atop the Big 12.
“He was unbelievable. He was the best player in the country (Monday night),” Self said. “That will go down as one of the better games that any guard has ever played at Kansas.”
It’s hard to remember a more clutch 5 1/2 minutes of basketball by anyone on any team this season.
Johnson hit two 3s and made two free throws with 4.9 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 90-all. He and Releford buried 3s to put Kansas ahead 100-92 with 2:03 left, and Johnson drilled a 30-footer with 54 seconds left that deflated a sellout crowd.
Johnson said that a personal conversation with Self on the bench put him in a zone that doomed the Cyclones.
“It was a locker room type of conversation. It just happened to happen during a game. I feel like that kind of set some fire through my body,” Johnson said. “My teammates saw me responding.”
Korie Lucious scored 23 points and Tyrus McGee had 22 for the Cyclones (19-9, 9-6), who dropped their third overtime game in Big 12 play — and their second straight at the hands of the Jayhawks.
After the game a handful of those in the student section hurled small plastic megaphones at the Jayhawks as they ran back to their locker room.
The anger seemed to be directed at Johnson’s dunk with 2 seconds left and the game well in hand. Johnson opened the post-game news conference by apologizing to Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, saying he simply got caught up in the moment.
“I shouldn’t have dunked that ball,” Johnson said.
For all the talk concerning Self’s quest for win No. 500, this game seemed destined to hinge upon whether Iowa State, one of the nation’s best offenses, could score enough on the stingy Jayhawks, the nation’s leader in field goal percentage defense entering play.
As it turned out, both teams had little trouble making shots until overtime.
That’s when the Cyclones lost their touch.
Freshman Georges Niang beat the shot clock with a 3, Iowa State’s 17th of the game, to give the Cyclones an 87-82 lead with 44.5 seconds left. But Johnson answered, and the Jayhawks went 6 of 7 from the field in overtime while Iowa State went 1 of 9.
“We just couldn’t get stops at the end of the game,” Lucious said. “It’s hard. We feel like we had the game won.”
For Iowa State, this loss was painfully similar to the one in Lawrence on Jan. 9.
Ben McLemore banked in a late 3 to force overtime of a game the Cyclones had controlled throughout. The Jayhawks prevailed, and though the Cyclones bounced back, they certainly didn’t forget their lost night in Lawrence.
But with March just around the corner, Iowa State and the rest of the league is chasing the Jayhawks — again.
“Our guys battled. I’ve been saying that all year. Hopefully we have a lot of season left,” Hoiberg said. “I love our guys. They’re going to continue to fight back.”
Though Kansas and K-State are tied for first, the Jayhawks hold the tiebreaker because they beat the rival Wildcats twice. Kansas’ remaining regular season schedule; Texas Tech and West Virginia at home, struggling Baylor on the road, doesn’t appear to be all that daunting as the Jayhawks go for at least a share of its ninth straight Big 12 title.
“We’ve got a chance to at least play for it, get a piece of it going to Baylor,” Self said.
Self, who began his head coaching career at Oral Roberts, is 293-57 at Kansas. He tied former Temple legend John Chaney by reaching 500 victories in his first 662 games.
His milestone night got off to an interesting start, though
Self was called for a rare technical foul for arguing a call less than 3 minutes into the game — much to the delight of a raucous, sellout crowd decked out in bright gold.
Self said after the game that he wanted to draw it in order to fire up his own team.
It worked — as have many other moves on the journey to 500.
“I don’t think it really means that much to be honest. I’m glad we got it. It means I’ve been doing it for a while,” Self said. “All I really care is if this team is having the best year possible.”