No. 13 Kansas whips Fort Hays State 101-52
To Mark Johnson, Thomas Robinson just doesn't look like the same man.
He's no longer the nervous, uncertain freshman Johnson saw when his Fort Hays State team played Kansas in an exhibition game in 2009. This Robinson is an experienced junior who had 22 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and four blocks while confidently leading No. 13 Kansas past Johnson's outmanned Tigers 101-52 in a lopsided exhibition game Tuesday night.
''He just looks like a different player from when we were here two years ago,'' Johnson said. ''Even physically. His body looks even bouncier, a strong body and a confidence level. More than anything, he's so confident right now as a player. He wants the ball. He's got the confidence to be a great player.''
In his first action since hyperextending his left knee on Oct. 27, Robinson got a huge ovation from the crowd and put in the first basket about 20 seconds into the game.
With twins Markieff and Marcus Morris off to the NBA, Robinson sees a clear path to what fans are hoping will be a breakout year.
''I was a little more nervous than I thought I was going to be before the game,'' he said. ''Once I got out there, though, I felt at home.''
Freshman Naadir Tharpe had 19 points while Connor Teahan had 14 and Justin Wesley 12 for the short-handed Jayhawks. Guards Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson sat out their second exhibition game for violation of unspecified team rules. Both projected starters are expected to play on Friday when the Jayhawks open their regular season against Towson State.
Robinson, a forceful 6-foot-10 junior, wore a big brace on the knee but did not seem limited in quickness or mobility, scoring 14 points and pulling down nine rebounds in the first half alone.
He understands why Johnson thought he looked like a different player.
''Definitely, I would say I'm a lot different. I feel like I've made a lot of progress and I'm a better player than two years ago,'' Robinson said. ''I appreciate the compliment, but there's a lot more to be done.''
The Jayhawks, the seven-time defending Big 12 champions, led 54-24 at halftime and were never threatened by the smaller, slower Division II Tigers, who lost 90-60 two days earlier at Kansas State.
Lance Russell had 11 points while Markus Yarbrough and KC Rodenburg had 10 each for the Tigers, who have made the NCAA Division II tournament three of the past four seasons but return only two of their top eight players from last season.
''We're just a struggling team right now,'' Johnson said. ''A lot of new guys. When you play a team like this, they just exploit all your weaknesses and obviously we have a lot of weaknesses.''
The biggest roar of the night came with about 8 minutes left when Robinson took a feed from Tharpe and made it 83-41 with a thunderous windmill dunk.
A moment later, Robinson fed 7-3 Jeff Withey for another dunk over the overmatched Tigers.
''I thought Thomas played really well,'' said Kansas coach Bill Self, whose exhibition record with the Jayhawks stands 25-0. ''He still needs to get down in his stance on defense and guard his man before he catches the ball, but I thought he was pretty good.''
Robinson's layup about 20 seconds into the game got Kansas going and the Jayhawks hit six of their first seven shots. Robinson rebounded under the Fort Hays basket, fired a half-court outlet pass and then fed Travis Releford for a dunk that made it 18-6.
Teahan, expected to be the first man off the bench this season, hit his second consecutive 3-pointer and ignited a 27-10 run in the first half that removed any doubt that the Jayhawks would win their 39th straight exhibition game.
Tharpe, a 5-11 freshman from Worcester, Mass., who could challenge Johnson and Taylor for playing time, showed exceptional quickness while finishing with seven assists and five steals. After hitting a jumper to give Kansas a 32-14 lead, he stole a pass and tossed the ball to Robinson, who was fouled but made both free throws.
But his youthful excitement also caused Releford a painful moment. Just as officials whistled a stop in play, Tharpe fired a pass that hit Releford flush in the face. He went over to apologize to his teammate and put his arm around him as Releford went to the free throw line and made both shots.
Fort Hays' Matt Simmons said Robinson was ''great, obviously.''
''It's exciting playing against someone of that caliber,'' Simmons said. ''It made me better today playing against him.''