Recurring Morris twins trouble especially disturbing
Manhattan ? If it merely had been a case of the Kansas University basketball team not having the humility to handle the prosperity of holding the No. 1 ranking in the nation, no big deal.
KU won’t have that problem again, after getting bullied, 84-68, Monday night in Bramlage Coliseum by a Kansas State team that rode its star to a season-saving victory. The Jayhawks (24-2) won’t play as No. 1 anymore, and the stink of such an awful performance ought to linger long enough to carry them into the postseason with enough sense to know if they don’t bring their best every night, they won’t last long.
The memory of a sea of purple spilling onto the court will create an edge, always a good thing to bring into March Madness.
It’s the threat of a recurring, self-defeating trait resurfacing at another inopportune time, the annoying sub-plot of an otherwise successful season, that could undermine KU’s attempt to get to Houston, site of the Final Four.
That, of course, would be the penchant for one of the Morris twins to act impulsively and get whistled for an intentional foul. It didn’t hurt his team when Markieff Morris got called for one against Missouri’s Justin Safford. Against K-State, Markieff’s arm made contact with Jacob Pullen’s face, which didn’t slow the senior guard from Chicago enough to keep him from torching KU with 38 points.
By that point in the game, Markieff’s twin, Marcus, had been whistled for two fouls. Markieff’s second foul, the intentional one, gave him a seat next to his brother. Thomas Robinson, recovering from knee surgery, wasn’t there to bail them out. That chore went to Jeff Withey, who couldn’t cut it defensively, and Mario Little, who was hell-bent on shooting Kansas back into it and kept firing blanks.
On a night Kansas was in too big a hurry all game, nobody hurried more than Little. Oh well, at least he led the team with five rebounds. And he’s not counted on to lead this team. That responsibility falls on the Morris twins, terrific players on most nights, the nights they don’t get in their own way.
Back during the nonconference portion of the schedule, it was Marcus Morris who unleashed a high elbow and got tossed from a road victory against California.
Days after Markieff’s loss of composure against Missouri, his coach, Bill Self, talked about how the twins are marked men and have to be aware of that. He mentioned referees think of them as a tandem, and when one twin does something foolish, both get branded as trouble-makers.
“We’ve addressed it consistently all year,” Self said then. “We’ve had different things to try to help them understand the importance of playing smart and that stuff all the time.”
Self expressed confidence the message had been absorbed.
“I really believe we’re not going to have any more issues with that moving forward,” Self said. “I don’t believe that will be the case at all.”
He believed it, and he was wrong. It’s not on him. It’s on the players to strike the proper balance and play intense, physical basketball without letting that spill into non-basketball plays that bring unnecessary whistles.
Pullen, intent on paying back Tyshawn Taylor for out-playing him in Lawrence, would have won this game even if Markieff hadn’t played just eight minutes in the first half, even if Marcus weren’t forced back into the game to play the rest of the half with two fouls because to do otherwise would have been to dig a deeper ditch.
Pullen has put so much on his back in this season of K-State underachieving a year after it overachieved all the way to the Elite Eight. At times, he’s taken too much upon himself and hasn’t looked like the same player.
He never looked better than he looked Monday, and he wasn’t going to let his team lose. Kansas resorted to a triangle-and-two and tried a platoon of defenders on him after Taylor couldn’t get near him. None of it worked because Pullen didn’t let it work. He drove so relentlessly to the hoop he attempted 19 free throws, made 15, and hit five of six three-point shots.
On this night, more than any, with Pullen going off, Robinson unavailable, the crowd jacked to dethrone No. 1 and a desperate team battling to pull it all together, composure was a must, and Kansas didn’t have it. Markieff returned in the second half, but he didn’t bring his multi-faceted game with him. In 20 minutes, he didn’t bring down a single rebound and scored three points. Marcus had 13 points, three rebounds, three steals and four turnovers. Taylor had one assist and six turnovers.
Aside from a costly turnover when Kansas was making a first-half run, reserve Elijah Johnson had done some nice things. He even slowed Pullen a little for a couple of solid defensive stretches. Then Johnson reached new heights, throwing down a dunk. He immediately took it to new depths, jawing at Jordan Henriquez-Roberts and getting whistled for a technical.
Trash-talking in self-worship with his team down 14 points and 5:55 left on the clock? That would be akin to a hitter popping out of the dugout for a ninth-inning curtain call after a solo shot with his team trailing, 9-1. Somebody please help me understand that line of thinking. On exactly what planet does that make even a shred of sense? Neptune? Jupiter? Mars? Where?