CELEBR-EIGHT: Kansas clinches outright crown
KU vs. Oklahoma State
Stillwater, Okla. ? After dancing with the Big 12 trophy late Monday night in a jubilant visitor’s locker room, Kansas University team leaders Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson modeled their ‘8 Str 8 Champs’ T-shirts and hats for media members in the Gallagher-Iba interview area.
The high-scoring Jayhawk duo, who combined for 44 points in a 70-58 victory over Oklahoma State, soaked in the euphoria after the victory that assured KU’s program an eighth-straight regular-season conference crown.
“I just want to thank everybody that said we weren’t going to win it this year,” Robinson said with a smile, before taking questions from reporters.
“We got (No.) 8 baby. This one feels good, too,” Robinson added after scoring 17 points off 6-of-15 shooting and grabbing 11 rebounds in 36 minutes.
“We knew what we had before we hit the floor (this season), before the whole world saw it,” he noted after the Jayhawks improved to 15-2 in league games with one remaining. Second-place Missouri is 12-4 with two to play. “I knew our guys weren’t scared to work hard. Proving ourselves to people was motivation to us. I think it had everything to do with it, to prove to everybody we could come back and defend our title.”
Taylor sounded a bit hoarse after KU’s 25th victory in 30 games.
There was a good reason for that, he said after scoring 27 points off 10-of-15 shooting — 4-of-7 from three.
“Celebration, baby, celebration. That’s it,” Taylor said.
He scored 10 straight points in a 10-0 run that boosted a 60-52 lead (with 5:31 left) to 70-52, squashing any OSU hopes of pulling out a victory.
Taylor, who played 37 minutes, chased around OSU senior guard Keiton Page, who exploded for 29 points off 10-of-19 shooting (7-of-14 from three) on his own Senior Night.
“Everybody gave him a standing ovation. I clapped it up for him,” said Taylor, who hugged Page after Page left with under a minute to play. “He deserved it. He’s been a tough guard all four years. It was Senior Night, and he played well. I’m happy for him.”
KU coach Bill Self at one point was upset with Taylor for failing to stick with the elusive Page.
“Tyshawn and I kind of got into it because he guarded him miserably when he had 11 straight (for OSU in second half),” Self said. “I told Elijah (Johnson), ‘He (Taylor) can’t guard him. You take him. Ty, you’ve got the other kid.’ He (Taylor) got upset and stayed on him and did a better job. Fortunately for us, he was able to match him basket-for-basket down the stretch.”
The Jayhawks, who led, 30-22, at halftime, were sluggish early just two days after beating Missouri in an overtime thriller in Allen Fieldhouse. That’s the game in which KU erased a 19-point deficit.
“We are tired,” Self said. “This is as tired as I can remember being, personally. I know the players are. That game Saturday was the most emotional regular-season game ever. There was a lot of pressure on our guys to win that game. This was probably the hardest game we’ve had this year other than that game. Our guys were pretty efficient.”
Robinson agreed that the Jayhawks were dead tired.
“Coach said something in the locker room, that this was an emotional letdown. That’s a good way to describe it,” Robinson said. “We were so high the other night, so geeked up. Today we were still talking about it. Our bodies were tired. We had to come back and get it rolling today.”
The victory and title seemed to energize the Jayhawks, who posed for pictures with the trophy with family members and fans before heading to the team bus.
“Where’s the trophy?” Robinson said, unable to locate it.
Freshman Merv Lindsay had carted it safely to the team bus, signaling it was time for the players to board the vehicle for a four-hour ride home.
“This team,” Self said, “has been awfully fun to coach.”
Next up is an 8 p.m. regular-season finale against Texas on Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse. It’s Senior Night for Taylor, Jordan Juenemann and Conner Teahan.