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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas can only hope the NCAA Tournament goes better than the Big 12 Tournament.
That goes double for Josh Jackson.
The star freshman was suspended for the top-ranked Jayhawks' conference tournament opener Thursday after a traffic incident that he tried to hide from coach Bill Self. And without him on the floor, the depth-challenged Jayhawks were stretched so thin by plucky TCU that they finally snapped.
Final score: Horned Frogs 85, Jayhawks 82.
It was a stunning loss by the tournament's top seed, especially considering the season Kansas has put together. Player of the year front-runner Frank Mason III and his teammates rolled to the program's 13th consecutive regular-season championship, beat Duke and Kentucky away from home and rolled through the CBE Classic at the Sprint Center — the same building where they fell Thursday.
The Jayhawks (28-4) were in position to earn the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, but those hopes were likely dashed when Brandon Bane hit three free throws with 2.5 seconds left to silence a pro-Kansas crowd just a short drive from campus.
And all Jackson could do was watch helplessly from the bench.
"It's tough, you know? We just had to kind of do it on the fly without him," said Devonte Graham, whose potential tying 3-pointer bounced harmlessly off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
"It really hurt not to have him out there because he's so versatile. He can do so many things."
Really, the Jayhawks could have used him simply to soak up minutes.
Without the Big 12 newcomer of the year in the lineup, Mason was forced to play every minute against TCU, finishing with a game-high 29 points. The rest of the starters played at least 35 minutes, including Graham, who briefly went to the locker room after rolling his ankle.
"It was really tough out there. We could have used him for more points, more rebounds. We just missed his presence out there," Mason said. "When guys get fatigued, guys forget personnel and those important things throughout the game."
When asked how much Jackson's absence diminished the win, TCU coach Jamie Dixon replied: "None."
Rightfully so. The eighth-seeded Horned Frogs (19-14) followed up their opening-round rout of Oklahoma with their best effort of the season — Kenrich Williams had 18 points, Bane finished with 16 and three others scored in double figures in a balanced offensive effort.
Meanwhile, the Horned Frogs outrebounded the Jayhawks, dominated them in the paint, had the advantage in points off turnovers and a big advantage in second-chance points.
In other words, the Horned Frogs earned the right to play No. 23 Iowa State in the semifinals.
"Everybody has guys that play and don't play, get in foul trouble," Dixon said. "So I think everybody knows we're a good team that lost some tight games, and you know, we played 'em two other times and it was the same game, really. We were ahead in the second half in both games."
Both of those times, the Jayhawks had Jackson on the floor to help out.
Both of those times, they managed to escape with wins.
"They're a good team without missing any single player," the Horned Frogs' Brandon Parrish said, "but without him, it took away one of their more dynamic playmakers."
Jackson may not be in the clear yet, either.
He still faces a misdemeanor charge of criminal damage to property after he allegedly kicked the car of McKenzie Calvert, a member of the Kansas women's basketball team. Her father, Tim Calvert, told The Kansas City Star that Jackson and his attorney "wanted to pay to make it all go away" but that the family refused the offer. Jackson is scheduled to be arraigned April 12.
Self said he hopes Jackson learned a lesson from potentially missing his only Big 12 Tournament game — he's a likely lottery pick in the NBA draft — along with the rest of the team. He also hopes an early exit in Kansas City gives the Jayhawks a chance to get their legs under them again.
The big question now is what the loss did to their NCAA Tournament fate.
If they had been the No. 1 overall seed, it would have meant playing the first weekend in Tulsa and the second weekend in Kansas City, giving the Jayhawks a sort of home-court advantage.
Kansas is still likely to earn a No. 1 seed, but where it plays is suddenly up in the air.
"It is very disappointing," Self said. "You work your (butt) off all year long and you get to postseason where it's championship week and everybody is excited to be a part of it and you go home early. Hopefully that will be a good motivator for us moving forward. Doesn't mean anything is broken, but certainly we've got to tighten some things up."
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