It’s understandable if a group of seniors give years to a basketball program and get a bit tense in front of the hometown crowd for the last time in their college career. Often, they’ll come out flat. Tense. Caught up in the emotion of the day.
Not these guys.
While celebrating the Kansas careers of seniors Jeff Withey, Travis Releford, Kevin Young and Elijah Johnson, the Kansas Jayhawks let loose on Texas Tech, cruising to a 79-42 win. Kansas’s 45 points in the first half would have been sufficient to send the Red Raiders packing.
The game itself was a formality after the first ten minutes. Maybe there was a bit of nervous pressure on the seniors (and redshirt freshman Ben McLemore who would be crazy to return for a second year), as they led only 13-10 halfway through the first half. Then they started to pile on, going on a 19-2 run over the next five minutes, capped off by a Jeff Withey – yes, Jeff Withey – three point basket.
It was reminiscent of another center’s accomplishment, as Scot Pollard hit his one and only three point shot at Kansas on Senior Day in 1997. Withey celebrated with the team as Texas Tech called a timeout and finished with 22 points, which included a soaring dunk on a lob from Johnson in the first half and a strong dunk for his last basket before receiving an ovation from a packed Allen Fieldhouse.
Johnson passed out 12 assists – including one on Withey’s three pointer – and set a new career high. On Saturday, he handed out ten assists. West Virginia and Texas Tech aren’t stifling competition, but seeing him feel comfortable and loose is encouraging as we enter March.
All but ten of KU’s points came from their starting lineup. Kevin Young had 14 with a lot of them coming at the basket on lobs or cleaning up rebounds. Releford and McLemore both had 13 (and Releford hit the Jayhawks’ only other three pointer). Johnson scored seven. As a team, Kansas shot 53.3%. After some wins against tough teams in tough environments (Oklahoma State, Iowa State) and big, convincing wins against lesser competition, Kansas looks to have its confidence back, a strong recovery from their three-game losing streak from earlier in conference play.
After the game, the seniors, as is customary, gave speeches to the remaining crowd (which remained mostly intact after the game) but kept things short and sweet. Business-like.
They have one more game in the regular season, a 5:00 p.m. CST matchup at Baylor. By the time they tip off, Kansas will know if they’re playing for a tie or outright win of their ninth consecutive Big 12 title. Kansas State, half a game down after Kansas’s win, plays TCU on Tuesday then has an early afternoon matchup with Oklahoma State from Stillwater. If they lose either game, Kansas will at worst tie for the title. They could go into the Baylor game with the title locked up.
But the bigger goal is ahead. The Big 12 tournament starts on Wednesday March 13. If Kansas reaches the championship game, they’ll play on Saturday the 16th and await their seed for the NCAA Tournament.