Emotional rescue: KU, Thomas Robinson hold it together, edge Texas
KU vs. Texas
Austin, Texas ? Thomas Robinson answered his wake-up call shortly after 10 a.m. Saturday in his AT&T Executive Center hotel room, flipped on the TV and was surprised to see his picture on the screen.
Kansas University’s junior forward from Washington, D.C., had tuned into an ESPN “Game Day” feature story on Saturday’s one-year anniversary of the death of his mom, Lisa.
“Seeing his sister (Jayla) on TV … it definitely made him smile,” said Elijah Johnson, Robinson’s roommate, who monitored the reaction of his teammate on such an important day. “I think he needed that. It started his day off right. It started his day off good.”
The 6-foot-10 Robinson once again made his loved ones proud — he tweeted the simple message “FOE” (Family Over Everything) 90 minutes before the game — by scoring 17 points, grabbing nine rebounds and coming up big in crunch time in the Jayhawks’ 69-66 victory over Texas in Erwin Center.
“Today was an emotional day for Thomas,” KU coach Bill Self said. “To go through what he has gone through and know this is the anniversary and wake up watching that ESPN special and all that stuff, to go out and perform like that … I think that showed a lot about him.”
Self held a short meeting with all the Jayhawks except Robinson on Friday, telling them to skip the ESPN report on Lisa Robinson’s passing.
“Elijah texted me saying Thomas watched it,” Self said. “I said, ‘How’s he doing?’ He said, ‘He’s OK. He wants to break down, but he hasn’t yet.’ I’m sure he’ll lose it here pretty soon. I think our guys picked him up today pretty well.”
Self spoke with Robinson about the ESPN special prior to the game.
“I said it made me proud to watch it,” Self said. “He said, ‘Coach, it made me proud to watch it, too.'”
Robinson — his inside feed to Jeff Withey resulted in a basket and foul shot to erase a 66-65 deficit and give KU a 68-66 lead with :37 left — said he was holding up fine.
He had not only his coaches and teammates around Saturday, but also Angel Morris, mother of KU’s Morris twins. She made a special trip to the game to make sure she was there if Robinson needed her.
Angel, who supported Thomas so much in the year since Lisa’s death, said Thomas was doing so well, she didn’t even bring up the significance of the day with him.
“I wouldn’t say it was too emotional,” Robinson said of Saturday. “No disrespect or anything, but that’s something I have to live with every day. For the media, it’s the anniversary, but for me it’s every day.”
Robinson was sent to the free-throw line in a crucial situation — with 8.8 seconds left and KU still up, 68-66. Texas coach Rick Barnes called a timeout to ice Robinson.
Thomas missed the first free throw, but knocked down the second, meaning KU had a 69-66 lead with one possession to go.
Texas’ J’Covan Brown (24 points, 20 the second half), who was guarded first by Travis Releford then taken by Elijah Johnson on the switch, missed a three with two seconds left, assuring KU its 16th win against three losses (6-0 in the Big 12). Texas fell to 12-7, 2-4.
“I’m still shaking,” Robinson joked of his nerves at the free-throw line.
He had just one rebound the first half. No matter, as the Jayhawks, who had game-high leads of 15 points in both halves, still led by 12 at the break.
“I don’t think that’s happened to me all season,” Robinson said of grabbing just one board in 20 minutes. “Coach pointed that out to me. The second half I had the mind-set, ‘I need every rebound.'”
Robinson and Withey (12 points, 8-for-9 from the line) had clutch plays late to go with the all-around excellence of Tyshawn Taylor, who scored 22 points and had four assists against no turnovers.
“Let’s call it (like it is) … it was Tyshawn Taylor. He controlled the game,” Self said. “He didn’t turn the ball over. He made shots, and when the game was on the line he got fouled and made a three-point play.”
First, KU’s Johnson hit a shot at 2:55 to slice a 64-60 deficit to one bucket. Then after a Clint Chapman miss, Taylor was fouled by Myck Kabongo on a jumper, hitting the free throw to give KU a 65-64 lead. Brown hit two free throws at 1:53 to put Texas up by one again, leading to the Withey and-one.
“We did a good job taking care of the ball,” Taylor said.
KU had just six turnovers to Texas’ nine.
Self was so happy with the lack of turnovers and poise in coming back from the four-point deficit he called it “the best win we’ve had all year. It’s what we needed. The last one or two possession game we’d played was Georgetown in early November. Our guys stepped up. Jeff showed some guts making those free throws, and we defended the last possession well.”
Still, Brown, who made seven of 26 shots (three of eight from three), had a chance to hit the game-tying three before the final horn.
“He still got a look that scared me,” Taylor said with a smile. “I thought it was going in when he shot it. To win on the road like this against a talented team like Texas is good for us. It shows toughness from us.”
KU will meet Texas A&M at 8 p.m. Monday in Allen Fieldhouse.