Texas A&M was finally back to full strength on Wednesday night.
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It wasn’t enough to get past No. 4 Kansas.
Elijah Johnson scored 21 points and Tyshawn Taylor made key plays down the stretch to help Kansas fight off a late run by the Aggies for a 66-58 victory.
Kansas (23-5, 13-2 Big 12) led by as many as 21 points in the second half before a big run by the Aggies brought them within striking distance.
It was the first game in month where the Aggies played with top players Khris Middleton and Dash Harris, who both missed significant time this season with injuries.
”It was just good to be out there tonight with my teammates,” Harris said. ”I just wanted to wait until I was healthy enough to do some of the things I do best, which is run the floor, play hard defensively. And I think I was able to do some of those things tonight.”
A 3-pointer by Harris cut the Kansas lead to four points, but Taylor made the first of two free throws to leave Kansas ahead 61-56 with about a minute remaining.
Johnson added a free throw before Thomas Robinson fouled out on a technical he received during a scuffle between players when they were trying to secure a loose ball.
Elston Turner made both free throws to make it 62-58 with 40 seconds left, but Jeff Withey scored four points to guarantee the win.
”To put them in a position to be able to win the game is beyond belief because we were just making basketball plays experienced guys should never make,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Middleton led Texas A&M (13-14, 4-11) with 23 points.
”You can’t give Kansas a 20-point lead on your home court and expect to win the game,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. ”The only thing I can say is we didn’t throw in the towel. We had some opportunities.”
The victory was the fifth in a row for the Jayhawks whose next game is a showdown for the conference lead with No. 3 Missouri on Saturday.
Kansas led 60-53 after Taylor scored the first basket for Kansas in almost seven minutes on a three-point play with just under two minutes remaining.
Johnson finished two points shy of his career-high and had 18 points in the first half to carry the team with Robinson and Taylor struggling before halftime.
Texas A&M shook off a bad start to the second half by going on a 24-8 run starting at the 11-minute mark to cut the Jayhawks’ lead to 57-53 with about two minutes remaining. Kansas made six free throws in that span, but the team’s only basket came on a layup by Johnson with just under nine minutes remaining.
Middleton scored 13 points in that time.
”We just didn’t take smart shots, we rushed up, took quick shots that weren’t good team looks, and it put us in a hole,” Harris said. ”We can’t play against top 10 teams or any team playing behind like that.”
The Jayhawks were leading by seven points early in the second half before they scored 14 straight points to stretch the lead to 47-26 with just more than 13 minutes remaining. Robinson had five points in that span and capped the run with a three-point play.
Robinson finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds to extend his streak of scoring in double figures to 16 games in a row.
This is the seventh consecutive season the Jayhawks have had 13 conference wins and their 23rd season in a row with 23 wins. They have won eight consecutive over A&M and are 19-1 all time against the Aggies in what could be the last meeting with A&M heading to the Southeastern Conference next season.
The paltry crowd of 6,868 was peppered with Kansas fans, including former Jayhawks coach Larry Brown, who watched the game from a front-row seat directly behind the visitors’ bench.
Harris, a point guard, missed the last seven games with an injured foot. He didn’t start, but entered the game early in the first half in his first game since Jan. 23 at Kansas.
He had eight points and David Loubeau and Turner added 10 points each for the Aggies, who trailed 31-21 at halftime.