- Jason King
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Standout freshman and future NBA lottery pick Ben McLemore was so mediocre on Sunday that he could hardly get off the Kansas Jayhawks' bench in the second half.
It didn't matter.
With McLemore struggling, Kansas used its other main weapon -- experience -- to advance to the Sweet 16 with a 70-58 victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Jayhawks got a combined 53 points from seniors Travis Releford (22), Jeff Withey (16), Kevin Young (10) and Elijah Johnson (5) in a come-from-behind win before 18,000-plus fans at the Sprint Center.
McLemore entered the game averaging a team-high 16.2 points, but for the second straight game, he seemed spooked by the NCAA tournament's big stage. McLemore scored just two points (both on free throws) in 18 first-half minutes before going scoreless after intermission. McLemore played just six minutes in the second half. He went 0-of-9 from the field overall.
Instead coach Bill Self turned to the same group of seniors that played pivotal roles in last season's march to the NCAA title game, where the Jayhawks lost to Kentucky. The foursome contributed in a number of ways that didn't show up on the scoreboard. Withey had 16 rebounds and five blocks. Releford collected eight boards and three steals. Johnson dished out four assists (and committed just two turnovers) while Young snared nine rebounds.
The other key factor for the Jayhawks was the player who replaced McLemore. Naadir Tharpe, a sophomore backup guard, scored 11 points off the bench and made a trio of clutch 3-pointers during a key second-half run that put the game out of reach for UNC.
The Tar Heels actually jumped out to a 30-21 lead thanks to a horrendous shooting effort from the Jayhawks, who made just 28 percent of their field goals in the opening 20 minutes while committing 12 turnovers. Kansas, though, opened the second half with a 33-10 run and never looked back. Self's squad outscored No. 8-seeded North Carolina 49-28 in the second half.
Tar Heels coach Roy Williams fell to 0-3 against his former schools, with each of the losses coming in the NCAA tournament. KU beat UNC in last year's Elite Eight. Kansas is now 31-5. North Carolina ends its season with a 25-11 record. P.J. Hairston scored 15 points for the Tar Heels, who shot 30 percent overall.
Turning point: A 3-pointer by Johnson forced a 35-35 tie at the 15:26 mark of the second half. Perry Ellis followed with a tip-in and then Releford converted a traditional three-point play that gave KU a 40-35 cushion. At that point Kansas had the momentum and never lost it again.
Key player: Releford. His 22-point effort came on 9-of-13 shooting. He also contributed eight rebounds and three steals. More importantly, he helped set the tone of toughness for the Jayhawks when they were struggling in the first half.
Key stat: Kansas, which made just one shot outside of the paint in Friday's win over Western Kentucky, didn't connect on a jump shot until Releford swished a 3-pointer two minutes into the second half.
Next: Kansas advances to the Sweet 16 for the third straight year. The Jayhawks play No. 4 seed Michigan Friday in Arlington, Texas.
64dJeff Goodman and Jeff Borzello