WASHINGTON, D.C. (TNS) — All at once, the energy drained from the Verizon Center here in the heart of the nation’s capital. In the final moments, as Kansas held onto a fragile one-possession lead, sophomore guard Frank Mason had slalomed into a crowd and emerged with a crucial steal.
Mason would hit one of two free throws on the other end, the Jayhawks led Georgetown by four points, and No. 10 Kansas would escape its first true road test of the season with a 75-70 victory on Wednesday night.
While Mason’s steal was pivotal, sophomore wing Brannen Greene played the role of hero, drilling a career-high five three-pointers and finishing with a season-high 19 points. The Jayhawks needed all of Greene’s offense to survive a road arena that proved hostile, even as KU fans sung the Rock Chalk Chant from the nosebleed seats in the final moments.
The Jayhawks improved to 7-1 for the season and notched another crucial non-conference victory before returning home to face Utah at the Sprint Center on Saturday in Kansas City, Mo.
For most of the second half, Georgetown’s frontcourt set up a no-fly zone around the paint, shutting down Kansas’ inside game. The Jayhawks went nearly 12 minutes without a field goal inside the three-point line, relying on Greene’s outside shooting and a parade of trips to the free throw line.
Finally, freshman forward Cliff Alexander broke the inside drought with a flash from the left wing, and junior Perry Ellis pushed Kansas’ slim lead to 65-61 with just more than five minutes left.
Greene extended the lead to 68-63 with another three-pointer with more than two minutes left, setting a career high with his fifth three-pointer. But Georgetown struck back with four straight points, cutting Kansas’ lead to 68-67 with 1:45 left to play.
The response forced Kansas coach Bill Self to use a timeout, and the Jayhawks turned it over on the ensuing possession. The Jayhawks, though, held tight on defense, forcing a missed three-pointer, and Alexander made two free throws on the other end to push the lead back to 70-67.
The Jayhawks led by as many as seven in the second half, taking a 58-51 lead after Greene keyed a 13-4 run with three three-pointers.
The Jayhawks had built a 28-15 lead in the first half on the strength of some early three-point shooting and suffocating defense. The Jayhawks drilled five of their first eight shots from deep, the final coming from freshman Devonte’ Graham with 7:15 left in the half.
Graham flashed his hands into the air, signaling three, and the Jayhawks pushed the lead to 13 when Graham hit one of two from the free throw line. For close to 13 minutes, the Jayhawks’ first road test was proving to be a breeze.
Soon enough it became a brick wall in the form of Smith, Georgetown’s brickhouse senior center. In a bit of scheduling serendipity, Smith was facing Kansas for the fourth straight season. The first two matchups came while he was still at UCLA, and Kansas was victorious in both. By last season, Smith had transferred to Georgetown, and he finished with just five points before fouling out in the Jayhawks’ blowout victory inside Allen Fieldhouse.
On Wednesday, Smith’s 350-pound frame dwarfed Kansas’ smallish frontcourt, which was playing without the services of junior forward Jamari Traylor. Smith’s inside presence ignited Georgetown’s 17-6 run in the final minutes of the first half.
And when Smith finished a bucket and drew a foul in the opening stretch of the second half, the Hoyas led 42-41.
The Hoyas helped out with a rash of first-half turnovers, finishing the half with 10 giveaways while shooting just 41.7 percent from the floor. The Jayhawks shot 41 percent overall while hitting five of eight from three-point range in the first half.
Traylor, meanwhile, was serving a one-game suspension after being arrested last weekend in Lawrence on a charge of interfering with the duties of a police officer.
But the Jayhawks found salvation from the outside. With Greene leading the way, the Jayhawks canned a season-high 10 three-pointers on 17 attempts. On a Wednesday night in Washington, it was enough.