LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Travis Ford has a theory about why Jeff Withey has emerged as an unsung star for No. 7 Kansas: The 7-footer finally realized he’s playing next to Thomas Robinson.
“I think he understands he’s playing with the best player in America,” the Oklahoma State coach said, “and he’s realized, `Hey, this is kind of good for me.’ That’s good for Kansas. Bad for us.”
Especially on Saturday.
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Withey finished with 18 points and a career-best 20 rebounds, Robinson had 24 points and 14 boards, and the seventh-ranked Jayhawks pulled away after blowing a big chunk of a 29-point lead in an 81-66 win over the Cowboys.
“It’s hard to beat us when they’re playing like they have been playing,” said Tyshawn Taylor, who added 12 points. “Especially Jeff, you know? A lot of teams focus on Thomas a lot, so when Jeff is playing well, it just gives us that extra threat.”
Elijah Johnson finished with 11 points and Travis Releford had 10 for Kansas (20-5, 10-2 Big 12), which could do no wrong in building a 55-26 lead, and then could seemingly do no right as the advantage dwindled to a dozen points with 6:43 remaining in the game.
Withey and Robinson answered the call, each knocking down a pair of free throws, and Kansas cruised the rest of the way to its 19th consecutive home victory.
“My play deserves nothing,” Robinson said. “This is all Jeff.”
The unheralded Withey, who was coming off a career-best 25 points in a win at Baylor, also had seven blocks and even dished out an assist.
“I’m just trying to be more positive and more aggressive,” he said.
Markel Brown had 21 points and Keiton Page added 19 for the Cowboys (12-13, 5-7), who have lost 16 straight at Allen Fieldhouse. Their last victory at the Phog was Feb. 8, 1989.
“They beat us in pretty much every category there was,” Page said. “If we hadn’t put ourselves in such a deep hole, we could have made it a game.”
Kansas spent the afternoon honoring the 1952 national championship team.
The Jayhawks wore throwback uniforms, the cheerleaders were dressed in skirts that touched the floor, and a pregame video montage showed grainy, black-and-white clips of the team that knocked off St. John’s to win the school’s third national title.
Several members of the team were introduced at halftime, including Bill Hougland and Clyde Lovellette, who was the MVP of the Final Four and later became a four-time All-Star in the NBA.
Also on hand were Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who are good friends with Jayhawks football coach Charlie Weis. The three of them, whose ties extend to their days with the New England Patriots, sat together along the baseline.
They had plenty to cheer about in the first half.
The Jayhawks led 16-13 about 8 minutes into the game when they started to ramp things up, turning missed shots and turnovers into easy baskets at the other end. The few times the Cowboys got back on defense, Kansas simply ran its offense to create easy looks at the basket.
The lead grew to 23-13 on back-to-back baskets by Withey, and the Jayhawks went ahead 34-17 on a layup by Releford.
Things were going so well for Kansas that Robinson scored when a shot he was trying to fight through traffic bounced off the head of an Oklahoma State player and through the basket.
The lead eclipsed 20 when Releford scored off a nifty feed from Taylor with 5:17 to play, and Elijah Johnson’s 3 and a pair of foul shots by Robinson made it 51-22 late in the half.
Kansas wound up shooting 64.5 percent before the break, outrebounding the Cowboys by a staggering 22-6. The Jayhawks also doled out 13 assists to just three turnovers — six of them by Taylor, whose decision-making has improved dramatically this season.
Oklahoma State tried to get back in the game in the second half, clamping down on defense and doing a better job of hanging onto the ball on offense.
Page’s 3-pointer with 8:01 left trimmed Kansas’ lead to 66-52, and a basket by Le’Bryan Nash a couple minutes later made it 68-56, the smallest gap for the Cowboys since 28-17.
Kansas managed to get things under control in time to wrap up its 10th conference win.
“It was half real bad and half real good. The first half we were terrific,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “The second half, as good as we were the first half, we were about that bad.”
The Jayhawks remained in a tie for the Big 12 lead with fourth-ranked Missouri, which knocked off Baylor earlier in the day. The two teams meet at Allen Fieldhouse on Feb. 25.
Oklahoma State failed to capitalize on any momentum gained from a win over Iowa State last Tuesday night. The Cowboys have only won once at Kansas since 1983.
“I knew they would come out and try hard. There’s no question about that,” Self said. “Travis is a competitive guy. You can just tell. They aren’t going to quit.”