Determined not to get caught up in the emotion of their final appearance in perpetually amped-up, sold-out Allen Fieldhouse, all four seniors had big games Monday night to lead the fourth-ranked Jayhawks to a 79-42 rout of Texas Tech.
”Today’s been kind of crazy,” said center Jeff Withey, who had 22 points and nine rebounds. ”You try not to think about what’s really going on, playing for the last time in the fieldhouse. For me personally, it hasn’t really hit me. I don’t think it will for a while.”
Kevin Young had 14 points and fellow senior Travis Releford 13 added while point guard Elijah Johnson, the fourth member of the class, had seven points and 12 assists. The Jayhawks (26-4, 14-3 Big 12) took a half-game lead over No. 9 Kansas State in their quest for a ninth straight conference title.
”It’s time to rock out. It’s time to get to business, and I think we all knew that,” said Johnson, who has 22 assists the past two games. ”I honestly think the reason it hasn’t hit all of us as far as this being the last (home) game is cause we’re so focused on what we’ve got to do. So we’re not dwelling on the moment. We know there’s stuff to be done. That’s where our heads are right now.”
Redshirt freshman Ben McLemore, a potential NBA lottery pick who was probably also playing his last game in Allen Fieldhouse, had 13 points.
Fueled by Young and Withey, Kansas unleashed a 19-2 run to take a 45-20 halftime lead over the outmanned Red Raiders (10-18, 3-14). Withey and McLemore combined to score the first 10 points in a 16-3 run to open the second half.
Jordan Tolbert had 16 points for Texas Tech, which lost 60-46 at home to Kansas earlier this season.
”It’s the most difficult situation probably in college basketball to come to Kansas on senior night, No. (4) in the country, a place with storied tradition and a great coach,” first-year Texas Tech coach Chris Walker said. ”Obviously, we’re still building and it was a little tough for our guys.”
The lopsided victory was the 30th straight for Kansas in its home finale and ensured the Jayhawks of at least 26 wins for the seventh consecutive season.
Coach Bill Self was happy to see the attitude his seniors brought to their final home games. There have been years when over-emotional seniors have struggled.
”Senior nights are pretty nerve-racking to me,” he said. ”We’ve had some senior nights where we won but we didn’t play good cause guys are too geeked-up and everything. Sherron (Collins) didn’t make his first basket until about 10 minutes left on his senior night. But these guys were focused. It was emotional for them but they kept it pretty well in check. Of course, the fans were unbelievable.”
”It really hasn’t hit me, or any of us yet,” Releford said. ”I really don’t know how to express that last moment walking off the court.”
With one regular-season game left and then the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, the four seniors – Withey, Young, Releford and Johnson – have a combined 463 victories.
Withey had baskets on Kansas’ first two possessions of the second half, then McLemore dropped in two free throws and another basket as the rout got worse and Texas Tech called a timeout in a futile try to stem the tide.
But Perry Ellis scored four quick points and Johnson dunked after Kansas stole the ball and the Jayhawks suddenly had a 61-23 lead.
Kansas scored on seven of its first nine possessions in the first half but then hit a lull and scored on only one of their next six while the Red Raiders – 23-point underdogs – crept within 13-10. Young, the most unheralded of the four seniors, triggered a 19-2 run that let the sellout crowd of 16,300 relax and enjoy one more easy home win by their beloved Jayhawks.
Taking a pass from Johnson, Young got the run going with a behind-the-back dunk, then got a putback on McLemore’s miss and with, another assist from Johnson, slammed home another dunk on the next possession.
Johnson tossed to Withey for another slam, then the 7-footer made in two free throws and a few minutes later brought a thunderous roar from the crowd by pulling up just inches from the line and making a feathery 3-pointer for a 32-12 lead.
To the delight of the crowd, the Red Raiders had three players put up air balls in the first half – Ty Nurse, Josh Gray and Jaye Crockett.
Texas Tech, losing to Kansas for the 24th time in 28 games, finished its conference road schedule 1-8.
”Kansas is a very good team,” Tolbert said. ”It was obviously a little more intense because it was a top five team in the nation.”
— Associated Press —