Travis Releford scored 12 points and No. 3 Kansas held off No. 11 Kansas State down the stretch for a 59-55 victory Tuesday night that gave the Jayhawks sole possession of first place in the Big 12.
Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey added 11 points each for the Jayhawks (17-1, 5-0), who pushed their nation-leading winning streak to 16 games — matching the third-longest under coach Bill Self — and ended the Wildcats' 12-game home winning streak.
Shane Southwell, who scored a career-high 19 points, got Kansas State (15-3, 4-1) within 56-53 with a scooping layup with 38.2 seconds left. But after Naadir Tharpe made two foul shots to restore a five-point lead, the Wildcats' Rodney McGruder misfired from beyond the arc at the other end.
McLemore was fouled and missed his free throw, and McGruder made two to get Kansas State within 58-55 with 5 seconds left. But Elijah Johnson's free throw put the game away.
McGruder finished with 13 points and Angel Rodriguez had 12, all in the first half, as the Wildcats lost for the 45th time in 48 games against their bitter in-state rival.
Kansas State had its own eight-game winning streak snapped.
The atmosphere was amped long before the opening tip. Students on their first day back from winter break lined up for several hundred yards in freezing temperatures, and then flooded seats on one side of the building more than 2 hours before the game started.
The Jayhawks, undaunted by the pulsating crowd, methodically built a 16-8 lead midway through the first half. Kansas took advantage of some balky outside shooting by the Wildcats, and routinely beat them off the dribble at the other end for easy baskets around the rim.
McLemore picked up his second foul of the half with 9:22 left, though, and Kansas State went on a run with the Jayhawks' leading scorer on the bench. Martavious Irving started the 11-2 spurt with a scooping layup and Southwell ended it with a 3-pointer from the wing that gave Kansas State a 19-18 lead and forced Self to call a timeout.
It served to settle down the senior-laden Jayhawks.
Perry Ellis scored a couple of baskets around a shot clock-beating jumper by Tharpe to help Kansas retake the lead, and Kevin Young's putback off his own miss made it 31-27 at halftime.
McGruder, shadowed everywhere by Releford, only managed two points on a soaring jam just before halftime. He missed both of his outside shots as the Wildcats went 4 for 16 from the arc.
The Big 12's reigning player of the week finally hit a 3 to start the second half, but Kansas answered with eight straight points, including a dunk by Withey off a feed from Young that forced Kansas State coach Bruce Weber to burn his first timeout of the half.
McGruder hit consecutive 3s later in the half to help keep the Wildcats close, but a 3 from the corner by McLemore and then an open jumper by the freshman with 6:50 to go gave the Jayhawks a 53-43 lead, the first time the margin had reached double figures all game.
Southwell shot the Wildcats back in it, hitting a jumper with 8:13 remaining and then consecutive 3-pointers — his fourth and fifth of the game — to make it 54-49 with 5:30 remaining.