(AP) — Thanks to one of the most clutch performances of the season, Kansas still owns a share of the Big 12 lead with three games left.
The first step toward a record ninth consecutive regular-season league title begins against West Virginia.
The sixth-ranked Jayhawks go for a sixth straight victory on Saturday when the Mountaineers – making their first trip to Lawrence – try to avoid their first four-game losing streak in eight seasons.
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Led by senior guard Elijah Johnson, who poured in 20 of his career-best 39 points in the last 29 seconds of the second half and overtime, Kansas (24-4, 12-3) rallied from five down in the final minute of regulation to defeat host Iowa State 108-96 on Monday.
While the story should have been the Jayhawks keeping pace with No. 13 Kansas State for the Big 12 lead, and coach Bill Self’s 500th career win, the postgame response from fans in Ames stole the headlines. After Johnson created a stir – and later apologized for dunking the ball with two seconds left – the Jayhawks had small plastic megaphones thrown at them by some in the student section as they returned to the locker room.
Security also had to stop an Iowa State fan from charging at Self as he conducted a postgame TV interview.
Johnson later had racist and threatening comments made toward him on Twitter.
“I’m past it, and I think we all should be past it,” said the guard, whose point total was the most in the league this season and most by a Jayhawk since Terry Brown’s 42 against North Carolina State on Jan. 2, 1991.
Leaving the distractions behind, Kansas can now focus on winning out. The Jayhawks hold the tiebreaker over the Wildcats by virtue of two head-to-head victories, and they lead No. 15 Oklahoma State by a game.
“We’ve got a chance to at least play for (the Big 12 title), get a piece of it going to Baylor (in the regular-season finale on March 9),” said Self, whose team plays its final home game on Monday versus Texas Tech.
Facing a ranked team will be nothing new for the Mountaineers (13-15, 6-9), who are winless in six such games, but playing in Allen Fieldhouse will be a new and very challenging experience.
Kansas has won its last three in Lawrence by an average of 24.3 points since its 33-game unbeaten streak there ended Feb. 2 with an 85-80 loss to Oklahoma State.
“We have to do a good job handling the atmosphere, because it is an incredible atmosphere,” said coach Bob Huggins, whose Kansas State team was routed 97-70 at Kansas during the 2006-07 season. “… We’re got to handle that and kind of block that out, then we’re just got to guard and make some shots.”
That could be asking a lot from a team shooting 35.1 percent from the field and giving up nearly 70 points per game during its slide.
West Virginia’s last four-game losing streak was a five-game skid from Jan. 11-25, 2005.
Freshman guard Eron Harris, who had a season-high 25 points in Wednesday’s 65-62 loss to Baylor, has been one of the few bright spots for the Mountaineers with a team-high 9.3 points per game, but he was held two in a 61-56 loss to Kansas on Jan. 28 in the first meeting between these teams.
Huggins also needs more from senior forward Deniz Kilicli, who finished with four points and one rebound.
Kansas center Jeff Withey, the two-time reigning Big 12 player of the week, had 15 points and seven rebounds in the win, and Travis Releford also scored 15 points.