The nine-point halftime deficit was second-largest halftime deficit overcome in a national semifinal.
“You couldn’t have scripted it any better,” said Robinson, a Washington native who finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. “When we’re down, we stick together.”
Said Jayhawks Coach Bill Self, “These guys have been in so many close games, they have so much confidence.”
Kansas (32-6) earned a trip to its first national title game since 2008, when it beat a John Calipari-coached Memphis team to give Self his first national championship.
This season, Self’s ninth in Lawrence, may be his finest coaching job. After losing to mid-major programs Virginia Commonwealth and Northern Iowa in the NCAA tournament the past two seasons, Self took a team with middling preseason expectations to its eighth consecutive Big 12 regular season title.
He watched Robinson rebound from personal tragedy to turn himself into a national player of the year candidate. He saw erratic senior Tyshawn Taylor overcome an up-and-down career arc to deliver a sterling performance in a Midwest Region final victory over North Carolina. And he witnessed center Jeff Withey blossom into the Big 12 defensive player of the year (he had seven blocks on Saturday night to give him 27 in five NCAA tournament games).
And Saturday night provided another sterling effort and turnaround. Kansas had excelled in the second half in the NCAA tournament, particularly in the second round against Purdue and in the Elite Eight against North Carolina. The Jayhawks were poised for another second-half surge Saturday, when the Buckeyes missed their first 10 shots from the field in the half.
Robinson’s emphatic dunk cut the deficit to three points. Elijah Johnson’s layup in transition tied the score at 38, capping a 17-4 run. It took nearly seven minutes into the second half before Ohio State (31-8) had its first field goal, a corner three-pointer by Aaron Craft.
Meantime, Deshaun Thomas, who had been one of Ohio State’s best offensive players throughout the tournament, picked up his fourth foul with 11 minutes 30 seconds remaining.
Ohio State’s William Buford and Kansas senior Conner Teahan traded three-point baskets down the stretch. With Kansas trailing by one point with three minutes to play, Robinson demanded the ball in the post, but he could not convert against Jared Sullinger.
Moments later, two free throws by Travis Releford gave the Jayhawks their first lead since the opening minute of the game, 56-55. But back came the Buckeyes and Craft, the school’s all-time single-season steals leader, who stole the ball and raced the other way for a layup with 2:21 remaining.