San Jose State coach George Nessman needed a spark with his team trailing big in Allen Fieldhouse. He turned to James Kinney and let him loose.
The senior guard wound up scoring 19 of his 30 points in the second half against No. 10 Kansas, helping the Spartans rally within seven points in the closing minutes before falling 70-57 on Monday night.
The Jayhawks went on a 20-2 run to start the second half, but Kinney responded with nine straight points to spark a 16-0 run that got the Spartans within 60-52 with about 5 minutes left.
"I wasn't going give up," Kinney said. "I'm not going to get embarrassed out here."
Kinney was the only effective option for San Jose State against the Jayhawks' Jeff Withey, who had 16 points, 12 rebounds and a school-record 12 blocked shots for only the second official triple-double in Kansas' long, storied basketball history.
"I think at some point you have to let your main guy go," Nessman said. "You have to give him a little freedom to attack. Out system wasn't getting it done."
Kinnney, who had two 30-point games last season, was the logical choice to let loose.
"They saw I had the hot hand," he said. "They kept feeding me and I kept delivering."
So did Withey, who scored 10 points for Kansas during a 20-2 run early in the second half, and achieved the Jayhawks' first triple-double since Cole Aldrich in an NCAA tournament game against Dayton in 2010 when the 7-footer blocked Xavier Jones' shot with 7:43 left in the game.
Kansas (5-1) used its big run to take a 60-36 lead with just over 11 minutes remaining, but the Spartans (2-3) answered with an 18-2 run to climb back in the game.
The Jayhawks finally put it away when Elijah Johnson hit a floater with just over a minute left for a 66-57 lead, and when Withey's rejection of J.D. Brown turned into a run-out that Ben McLemore finished off with a windmill dunk with about 30 seconds remaining.
"We didn't back down. We kept bucking up and sticking our chest out there, and that was important for us," Nessman said. "This is one of the hardest places to play in the country."
McLemore finished with 13 points despite missing all seven of his 3-point tries, and Travis Releford also had 13 points for the Jayhawks. Kevin Young added eight rebounds.
Playing its first game since romping to victory in the CBE Classic last week, the Jayhawks looked fresh and smooth in building a double-digit lead late in the first half.
San Jose State answered with nine straight points spanning halftime to get back into it.
That's when Kansas went on its big run.
It began with a 3-pointer by Johnson, and the momentum really started to build when Young followed up Withey's miss with an easy basket down low.
Withey scored six of the Jayhawks' next eight points as the lead slowly grew, and the crowd at Allen Fieldhouse began to realize that he was making history. He surpassed the 10-rebound mark midway through the second half before getting his 10th block to mark the triple-double.
"He was the only guy who played worth a flip," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "He did a good job covering up for a lot of mistakes, because we made a ton of them tonight."
Unofficially, it was Withey's second time reaching the milestone.
The senior had 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks against Pittsburg State in an exhibition game last season, when All-America forward Thomas Robinson missed the game due to injury.
It also comes with an asterisk in the Kansas record books.
The school didn't keep records for blocked shots during the 1950s, when Wilt Chamberlain was plying his trade on the hardwood. He undoubtedly had his share of triple-doubles while playing for the Jayhawks — but officially, only Aldrich and Withey have done it.
"I've been wanting that for a while now, and it's only me and Cole that have it, so it's pretty special to me," Withey said.
Kinney nearly stole his thunder late in the game.
The spunky guard hit consecutive jumpers to end the Jayhawks' big run, and then added a fall-away 3-pointer with just over 10 minutes remaining to start closing the gap.
He added another 3-pointer with 6:44 left to trim the lead to 60-51, and then hit his fourth 3 of the game as the shot clock was winding down to make it 64-57 with 2:39 to go, before the Jayhawks finally put it away in the final minute.
"I just don't think we have any fold in us. That's not who we are. We have a great group of kids," Nessman said. "We came here to play for a full 40 minutes."