Controversial foul call propels Kansas basketball to nail-biting victory over Samford

The Jayhawks got a friendly whistle in the final seconds to avoid an upset loss in the first round of March Madness.
Mar 21, 2024; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Nicolas Timberlake (25) shoots
Mar 21, 2024; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Nicolas Timberlake (25) shoots / Gabriel Mayberry-USA TODAY Sports

A popular upset pick in the Round of 64 was Samford over Kansas basketball. The game between the Bulldogs and Jayhawks did not disappoint last night, with Bucky McMillan's squad nearly coming back from a 22-point deficit, but KU came out on top 93-89.

Despite leading by 10 points at halftime, a 51-point second half put Samford back in the game. They cut the lead to as little as one point, but they never took the lead in the entire game after missing out on some crucial opportunities.

The Bulldogs' biggest opportunity came in the final minute after Jaden Campbell hit a three to make the score 90-89 in Kansas' favor. An outlet pass by Dajuan Harris gave transfer guard Nick Timberlake a clear lane to the basket, but A.J. Staton-McCray came out of nowhere with a chase-down block — all for it to be erased with a phantom foul call by the referees.

KU's 93 points were the most it has scored since the second game of the regular season. It was a back-and-forth contest for much of the second half, and the Jayhawks were led by Hunter Dickinson (19 points, 20 rebounds), KJ Adams (20 points, six assists), Johnny Furphy (16 points, eight rebounds), and Timberlake (19 points, three 3-pointers made).

"Bucky Ball" was in full effect, as Samford forced 18 turnovers and connected on 16-of-37 attempts from 3-point range. They pressed the Jayhawks all game and played skin-tight fullcourt defense, making Kansas players uncomfortable throughout the contest.

Even with Kevin McCullar missing the rest of the tournament, Kansas still received enough production from Timberlake and Elmarko Jackson to make it work. It was arguably the best game of Timberlake's short Jayhawk career, and he hit the clutch two free throws that would give the team a three-point lead in the closing junctures.

Many individuals are claiming the officials gifted Kansas a victory, but ultimately, games never come down to one play. While it was not a pretty victory by any means, victories are hard to come by in March Madness — especially against hard-nosed and gritty teams like Samford.

Kansas has now avoided a first-round exit under Bill Self in every year since 2006. Bill Self and Co. will take on No. 5-seeded Gonzaga in the Round of 32 as the Jayhawks look to advance to their second Sweet 16 since 2019.