The Kansas Jayhawks found themselves on the ropes once again at Iowa State this past Monday night.
However, senior guard Elijah Johnson had other plans and saved the Jayhawks hopes at the Big 12 regular season title. If the Jayhawks can hold on in their last three games, it will be their ninth straight title.
Johnson exploded for 39 points, including 12 in the overtime sessions to keep the Jayhawks tied with the Kansas State Wildcats (12-3) in conference play. The Jayhawks, however, did sweep the season series from the Wildcats, so the win puts them in first due to the tie-breaker.
The win also gave Kansas Head Coach Bill Self his 500th career victory. After the game Self noted, “”He (Johnson) was unbelievable. He was the best player in the country tonight. That will go down as one of the better games that any guard has ever played at Kansas.”
That is high praise for Johnson, who has been the source of much scrutiny this season.
Jayhawk fans have been very upset with the converted point guard’s play. Johnson had some tough stretches not only scoring but taking care of the basketball, especially in Kansas’ home loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys. During the teams three game winning streak Self had to reassure the fans and media that Johnson was the starting point guard and that there was no need for further discussion.
Despite all of the criticism and Naadir Tharpe having a more active role handling the ball and pushing the tempo for the Jayhawks, it was Johnson who made tough shot after tough shot against an incredibly hot shooting Iowa State Cyclone squad on Monday night.
Monday night was Johnson’s win. After what he has been through this season he deserves it.
He even apologized for pushing the ball up the court and dunking the ball with just two-seconds left when the game was out of reach.
Some, especially Iowa State fans, did not appreciate the dunk.
Johnson recognized his mistake and that is not normally what he would have done. Johnson apologized on ESPN right after the game and also it was the first thing he did in his post game press conference. In this case, in the heat of the moment, Johnson seemed to let a season worth of frustrations out with that exclamation point dunk.
Hopefully Johnson will get a pass for the dunk from Iowa State fans and for the rest of his career with Jayhawk fans.
He has definitely earned it.
Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo