KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Davidson coach Bob McKillop channeled every boxing analogy he could think of Monday night. He told his team to take things one round at a time, keep throwing punches, stand toe-to-toe with mighty Kansas in the center of the ring.
How about this for an analogy: The Wildcats scored a technical knockout.
Nik Cochran had 21 points, including a clutch 3-pointer in the closing minutes, and the tiny school from North Carolina shocked the 12th-ranked Jayhawks 80-74, exacting a little bit of revenge over an epic NCAA tournament loss three years ago.
"A month ago we had a one-point lead against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium and they knocked us out in the first 5 minutes of the second half," McKillop said. "We came out tonight and scored two quick baskets to put us in the center of the ring the rest of the way."
JP Kuhlman added 15 points and De'Mon Brooks had 13 for the Wildcats (7-3), who led the final 23-plus minutes to knock off the defending Big 12 champs in their home away from home.
The Jayhawks (7-3) had won 13 of the 15 games they had played at the Sprint Center, about a 30-minute drive from their campus in Lawrence, including the last two Big 12 tournament titles. The lone losses also came out of conference — to Syracuse and Massachusetts.
"That wasn't an upset tonight," Kansas coach Bill Self said glumly.
It was the first meeting between the schools since the NCAA regional final in 2008, when Stephen Curry led the Wildcats on an inspired postseason run. Kansas managed a 59-57 victory when a last-second shot by Davidson's Jason Richards clanked off the rim, and the Jayhawks would go on to win the fifth national championship in school history.
The teams were different Monday night, no longer stocked with future NBA stars, and the game looked nothing like that fluid performance in Detroit. But the biggest difference was in the outcome.
"A couple years back we took something real important from them. They probably circled this one early in the year," Kansas' Elijah Johnson said. "We knew with us being Kansas, they played teams like us before. We knew they wouldn't come out afraid of us."
Thomas Robinson had 21 points and 18 rebounds for the Jayhawks, trying in vain to rally his team down the stretch. Tyshawn Taylor came back from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee to get 15 points and seven assists, while Johnson also had 15 points.
The Jayhawks were coming off a win over No. 2 Ohio State and a lengthy break for final exams, though most of the game it looked as if they were still on break. They finished 25 of 62 from the field (40.3 percent), but just 6 of 23 from the 3-point line and 18 of 31 from the free throw line.
"As poorly as we played, and certainly didn't get stops when we needed to, if we make our free throws at least at a better percentage, then the outcome possibly could've been different," Self said.
In fact, Davidson only led 68-65 with 1:31 left. The shot clock was winding down when Cochran took a pass from well beyond the 3-point line, squared up and let go a shot that tickled the net.
Taylor couldn't match it at the other end, his 3 clanking off the front of the rim, and Davidson managed to seal it from the free throw line.
"It's a statement about a team that has shown some resiliency, when you play a storied program — and this is one of the storied programs in America — and you play them on a neutral site, but a home court," McKillop said. "This was as pure as it gets, and to win in this environment is very special."
Self's crew must have figured it was in for a long night when they missed their first four shots and turned it over on their other possession. Davidson took advantage by running out to a 9-3 lead with 14:38 left in the half, forcing Self to call his second frustration timeout.
Kansas pulled within 15-13 later in the half before Davidson again stretched the lead, this time pulling ahead 23-15 after a basket by Brooks and consecutive 3s by Jake Cohen and Tyler Kalinoski.
Johnson finally sparked the sleepy Jayhawks with a deep 3-pointer from the top of the key, starting a 13-0 run. Robinson converted a three-point play and added another free throw, Johnson hit another 3-pointer, and Connor Teahan's 3 from the corner gave Kansas a 28-26 lead.
That was the Jayhawks' final lead of the game.
The juxtaposition of Davidson's veteran poise — four starters returned from last season's team — with the inexperience of Kansas became evident. The Wildcats responded to adversity by scoring the next six points, and carried a 33-32 lead into halftime at a silenced Sprint Center.
It never got very loud in the second half.
"They controlled the game," Self said. "They whipped us."