Kansas Jayhawks narrowly survive against Samford Bulldogs 93-89 in first round of NCAA tournament

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH — The Kansas Jayhawks are moving on to the second round of the 2024 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, withstanding a nearly historic collapse and a controversial late call to edge out the Samford Bulldogs 93-89.

Third-seeded KU led by as many as 21 points in the second half, but No. 14 seed Samford got red hot from three-point range and used relentless pressure to turn the Jayhawks over more than in any other games this season, trimming the deficit down to as little as one point late in the contest.

But Kansas found away to hold on, getting just enough stops and making just enough free throws to ice the opening-round win.

“We’re relieved, excited and proud to get an opportunity to advance,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “I thought Samford was great. I’ve never played against anybody where there’s never a break in the action.”

Arguably the biggest moment of the game came with just 14 seconds remaining. Kansas senior Nicolas Timberlake went for a dunk on the back end of a press break, but the ball was swatted away by Samford’s A.J. Staton-McCray. Timberlake tumbled to the hardwood and the Staton-McCray was called for a personal foul. Upon review, it was not a clear foul, rather it appeared to be a clean block. However, that kind of play can’t be reviewed.

Timberlake hit both ensuing free throws, extending the Jayhawks’ lead for good.

After the game, Timberlake stood by the official ruling.

“I was definitely fouled on the breakaway,” Timberlake said.

It was a big game for Timberlake, who was making his first appearance in the NCAA tournament in his sixth year of college basketball. He was one of five Jayhawks to score in double figures (composing the entire starting five), posting a season-high 19 points and making 3-of-6 tries from three.

Timberlake got the start in place of senior guard Kevin McCullar, who won’t play in the tournament due to the same knee injury that kept him out for a large portion of the latter part of the regular season.

The biggest and debatably most important performance came from another transfer, senior center Hunter Dickinson. He also scored 19 points while shooting 9-of-14 from the floor, he had his fourth game with 20 or more rebounds by snagging exactly 20 boards, and he blocked four Bulldogs shots in the win.

“We’re resilient, we’re tough,” Dickinson told Dana Jacobson of Turner Sports after the game, adding: “A lot of teams could have folded, that’s what happens in March, a lot of runs happen like that, the crowd is into it. But it is what it is, we were able to come out with a win.”

Dickinson tallied his 17th double-double of the year while battling injury problems of his own, wearing a wrap on his right shoulder throughout the game.

Senior guard Dajuan Harris scored 13 points and had a team-high seven assists on Thursday night, while junior forward K.J. Adams tallied a team-high 20 points and freshman guard Johnny Furphy added another 16.

As a team, the Jayhawks shot 60.3% from the floor and made 33.3% of their three pointers, but they also gave the ball away 18 times, leading to 15 Bulldogs points. Samford’s second-half run was largely propelled by its aforementioned hot shooting from deep, knocking down 10-of-20 three-point tries in the second half.

“We’re in March Madness now, so a lot of crazy stuff happens,” Adams said. “But when you’re not disciplined in some plays like we were down the stretch it can hurt you and it almost got us today, but we made some big plays to stop that from happening.”

With the victory, KU has now was 17 consecutive games in the Round of 64, dating back to the 2007 NCAA tournament (though the 2018 win was vacated by the NCAA).

It also sets up a second-round meeting with the fifth-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon. Gonzaga thrashed 12th-seeded McNeese on Thursday 86-65. Saturday’s matchup between Kansas and Gonzaga will tip at 2:15 p.m. central time.

For more on the Kansas Jayhawks’ 93-89 win over the Samford Bulldogs, check out 580 Sports Talk Friday afternoon from 2-3 on 580 WIBW.