NEW ORLEANS -- Saturday’s first Final Four game had all the hype, but the second game stole the night.
Ohio State and Kansas was billed as the second-fiddle showdown of second-seeded schools in the second game of the NCAA tournament’s double-header.
The teams, though, certainly didn’t take a back bench.
As jubilant Kentucky fans watched to scout Monday’s opponent, Kansas rallied to defeat Ohio State, 64-62, before a thoroughly entertained Superdome crowd of 73,361.
Kansas advances to Monday night’s title game against Kentucky, which defeated Louisville, 69-61.
“I think it’s even more of a thrill for us right now because I don’t think anybody probably thought we could get here,” Kansas Coach Bill Self said. “We still haven’t played a terrific game yet in the tournament, but somehow these guys find ways to win games.”
The final seconds were among the most frenzied of the tournament.
Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor made two free throws with 8.3 seconds left to put the Jayhawks up by three.
Taylor then stole the inbounds pass, but, instead of holding the ball, he made an errant pass out of bounds.
After Kansas decided to foul Ohio State with a three-point lead, Aaron Craft made the first free throw, with 2.9 seconds left, and then intentionally missed the second.
Craft, though, was called for a lane violation and Kansas was awarded the ball. The Jayhawks then inbounded the ball and ran out the clock.
Ohio State players seemed shocked.
In the 2008 NCAA title game, Memphis, up by three, failed to foul Kansas, and Mario Chalmers made a three-point shot to tie the score, then Kansas won the title in overtime.
Kansas (32-6) trailed Saturday’s game by as many as 13 points.
The Jayhawks took the early lead at 2-0 and did not lead again until Travis Releford made two free throws with 2:48 left to put his team up, 56-55
“That’s been our thing all year, coming from being down,” Kansas’ All-American forward Thomas Robinson said. “I don’t like it, but we keep on doing it.”
Kansas led by three with 1:12 left and thought it had increased the margin when Jeff Withey, who had seven blocked shots, put the ball in the basket with 27 seconds left. Withey, though, was called for traveling.
Ohio State cut the lead to one with 9.6 seconds left on William Buford’s follow shot.
Ohio State star Jared Sullinger, who sat out a Dec. 10 loss to Kansas because of back spasms, didn’t sit this game out. He finished with 13 points and it appeared early he would be the difference maker.
“I mean we can’t blame it on anything,” said Sullinger, who made five of 19 shots. “We had a great season. We had a lot of doubters this season. Nobody expected us to get this far.”
The Buckeyes (31-8) dominated the first half and took a 34-25 lead to the locker room. The most positive sign was Buford making all three of his first-half shot attempts.
Buford is Ohio State’s fourth all-time leading scorer, but he had made only 13 of 44 shots in four tournament games. He finished with 19 points.
Robinson led Kansas with 19 points.
The Jayhawks and Buckeyes have a combined 24 Final Four appearances, but they are known for coming up short.
Ohio State won its only NCAA title in 1960, but finished second in 1939, ’61, ’62 and 2007.
Kansas has three titles -- 1952, ’88 and 2008 -- but has finished as runner-up five times.
The most painful defeat was suffered by the 1957 squad, led by Wilt Chamberlain, which lost the championship game in triple-overtime to North Carolina.
Kansas knows the stakes now. It will either earn its fourth title or finish second for a sixth time.