Blame it on the curse of Tarrant County, where Kansas remains 0-for-the-season.
Credit the belated arrival of Michigan point guard Trey Burke, who shook off a scoreless first half to become the first player in 26 years to erupt for at least 20 points and hand out 10 assists in the same Sweet 16 game.
Whatever the reason, top-seeded Kansas’ season is over and Michigan is marching on the Elite Eight after a heart-stopping, 87-85 overtime victory over the Jayhawks in the first NCAA Tournament game played at Cowboys Stadium.
Burke, a national player of the year candidate, already had the vote of Kansas coach Bill Self for that honor before the sophomore broke the Jayhawks’ hearts with a flurry of clutch shots during the Wolverines’ rally from a 68-54 deficit in the final 6:50.
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The most telling, a 28-footer from behind the 3-point arc with 4.2 seconds remaining, finally tied the contest and switched the momentum in the direction of Michigan (29-7) heading into overtime. It capped a stretch when Burke (23 points, 10 assists) scored eight of the Wolverines’ final 10 points of regulation to erase a 74-66 deficit in the final 1:12.
“The season flashed before our eyes the last two or three minutes,” Burke said. “We fought so hard to come back, it really didn’t matter how far that shot was [to force overtime]. It was all or nothing.”
After it hit the bottom of the net, Burke continued his offensive onslaught in overtime. He scored the Wolverines’ first five points, including a 3-pointer in the first minute that gave Michigan its first lead since a 9-8 advantage in the first half. Michigan eventually built the lead to 87-82 before Kansas (31-6) rallied in the final minute.
The Jayhawks, the last Big 12 team remaining in the tournament, had a chance to win or tie on their final possession but came away scoreless when Naadir Tharpe’s off-balance 3-point shot clanged off the iron as time expired.
The victory will carry Michigan into a Sunday matchup in the South Regional final against the winner of Friday’s late game between Florida and Florida Gulf Coast. Kansas coach Bill Self, 0-3 this season in trips to North Texas, praised Burke and the Wolverines for making the crunch-time plays his team could not.
“We just didn’t make the plays down the stretch. And they made a ton,” said Self, whose team dropped regular-season contests at TCU, 62-55, and at Baylor, 81-58. “Give Michigan credit. Their player of the year stepped up and was unbelievable late and made some tough plays.”
Burke received significant help from freshman forward Mitch McGary, who scored a career-high 25 points in his fifth career start. McGary also grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds and neutralized Kansas center Jeff Withey (12 points, 8 rebounds), limiting him to four points in the second half and overtime.
But the biggest baskets belonged to Burke when Michigan was mounting its comeback. After Glenn Robinson turned a loose ball into a clutch layup at the 28-second mark, cutting the deficit to three, Burke scored the final five points in helping the Wolverines erase a 76-71 deficit. The biggest one, he released over the outstretched arm of Kansas defender Kevin Young, sending the game into overtime.
“Once it went in, we still needed another defensive stop,” said Burke, whose team got it when Elijah Johnson missed an open 3-pointer to close regulation. “We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re one step closer.”
From a statistical standpoint, Kansas dominated the first half everywhere except the scoreboard. The Jayhawks shot 67.9 percent from the field, outscored Michigan by a 34-14 margin in the paint and limited Burke to 0-for-4 shooting.
Kansas even caught a break when Jayhawks point guard Elijah Johnson was assessed only a flagrant foul — rather than receiving a possible ejection — for his impromptu cup check of McGary in the first two minutes of the game.
Yet despite all those breaks and statistical advantages, Kansas headed to the locker room with only a 40-34 halftime advantage. Wolverines coach John Beilein said the small deficit “was actually comforting to us, based on what we had done defensively.”
Michigan expanded on that comfort level in the second half and overtime, eventually punching their first ticket to the Elite Eight since the 1994 season.
“The ball bounced our way the last few minutes, and we keep on playing,” Beilein said. “I’m proud of our guys because they deserve this.”