There are nights that will stand out in the evolution of a basketball player. For Kansas freshman forward Perry Ellis, Friday night will go down as a night the young McDonald's All-American from Wichita, will never forget.
Getting extra minutes after an injury to forward Kevin Young in the first half, Ellis entered the game and proceeded to turn in a career performance, scoring 23 points on 10-12 shooting, while bringing down six rebounds. Ellis stole the show on a night where there were many other storylines that could have taken center stage, as the Jayhawks pulled away to beat Iowa State 88-73 in the semifinals of the Big 12 Championship at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
Kansas will face Kansas State in the championship game, Saturday evening at 5:00 in a battle between the two schools that finished tied for the Big 12 regular season title.
"After about the 12-minute mark, I thought we did a good job playing with energy and matching their emotion and we played pretty good defensively and rebounding the ball and of course we had one individual, you know, Perry just was off the charts good," Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Seeking revenge for two overtime defeats during the regular season, Iowa State (22-11, 11-7) came out riding an emotional wave en route to a 12-4 lead.
The building was bubbling with emotion and boiled over after a technical foul was called on Guard Ben McLemore for taunting after a made three pointer by referee John Higgins.
Kansas coach Bill Self was livid and shouted at the officials for several straight possessions until he was finally assessed a technical foul of his own, which had fans from both sides at a frenzy.
"I feel like Coach did that to get us fired up," senior guard Elijah Johnson said. "I feel like there was a reason to it. He didn't do it for no reason. It worked."
The technical ignited the Jayhawks, as they seized momentum and surged ahead, to take a 35-31 lead, keyed by a three pointer by Travis Releford to close out the first half.
When the second half began, Kansas (28-5, 14-4) used a suffocating defense to cool off the Cyclones offense, as well as attacking the boards to a tune of a 40-30 rebounding advantage by game's end to stretch the lead to double figures.
In the end, the night belonged to a freshman who has worked throughout the season to find his way in his first year of college basketball and as victory was in hand, Perry Ellis was serenaded with chants of "Perry" by the heavy Kansas contingent among the record sellout crowd of 19,160 and as he walked off the court following an interview for national television following, he left the court to a standing ovation, prompting a simple smile and wave from a kid who finally took that next step in his evolution.