Omaha, Neb. — Normally being grouped with Duke would be a good thing for Kansas basketball, but on a day where the Blue Devils joined Missouri as one of the few #2 seeds to fall to a #15 seed in the NCAA tournament, the Jayhawks wanted no part of that — and they played like it.
Kansas rolled over Detroit 65-50 in Friday night’s second round match-up at the CenturyLink Center, setting itself up for a Sunday night bout with Purdue.
“We didn’t talk about [the losses] at all or make it a big deal but it did wake us up a little more and gave us energy for the game,” Thomas Robinson said. “This is March and anybody is capable of beating anybody right now.”
While the game ended in a route it started in a dogfight. 12 minutes into the first half the Jayhawks had turned the ball over eight times, and were clinging to a 23-21 lead — and from then the shots stopped falling.
From 8:11 to 4:37 left in the first half the Titans and Jayhawks combined for 16 missed field goals. That ended when Taylor hit a jump shot followed by a Thomas Robinson steal and dunk that kicked off a 34-7 run that saw the Jayhawks up 53-28 with 13 minutes left in regulation.
“They outplayed us I thought the first 10 minutes,” Self said. “Even though the score was pretty even I thought they were quicker to balls and seemed more active and then we went through a 20‑minute stretch I thought we played very well.”
Yet Kansas had an inner storm to weather as well. Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford picked up two fouls early, and Tyshawn Taylor sat for most of the second half with a leg cramp, meaning the Jayhawks biggest question mark — the bench — would have to come up big.
Kevin Young played 22 minutes and put up nine points with three rebounds, Conner Teahan played 29 minutes with three points, and Naadir Tharpe saw 13 minutes of action. They each held their own under the highest of pressures.
“These guys all can play,” Travis Releford said. “I don’t think they would be here if they couldn’t. They were ready when their number was called.”
The only blemish from the reserves was Tharpe’s two turnovers, but Johnson — who had three turnovers of his own — was able to settle him down before the problem got to be too mental.
“He gave them a chance to go on a run and the first thing he said to me was ‘My bad’,” Johnson said. “I told him you learn from it, soon he’ll the person out there, and he needs to get his reps in.”
As the tournament goes on, and the competition gets stiffer the bench will play a bigger role in the Jayhawk’s success. After seeing his players respond early in the tournament Self is feeling more confident about the guys sitting down the row from him.
“Our bench is getting better,” Self said. “Naadir played well, the 9 minutes in the first half were terrific, and he’s capable of giving us good minutes. Kevin has played well of late, he’s been a good player for us and Conner has had 37 minute in a game, and that’s a lot of minutes. They responded well.”