Sometimes, sporting events almost seem to have a touch of destiny about them.
Kansas fans are familiar with this concept, of course - "Danny and the Miracles" and the 2008 heroics of Mario Chalmers spring to mind – but examples exist throughout the sporting world. They're moments when the efforts of an individual or team serve as a reminder to fans why they invest so much time and emotion in what is, after all, just a game.
Coming off a stretch of weeks that could charitably be described as "brutal" – a time period during which attended the funerals of his grandmother, grandfather and, most recently, his mother, Lisa – there wasn't a Kansas fan sitting inside the friendly confines of Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday night who didn't want one of those performances for Thomas Robinson.
And the sophomore big man delivered. His 17 points and 9 rebounds in just 20 minutes of play helped fuel the Kansas Jayhawks to a 90-66 blowout victory over in-state rival Kansas State.
"He was unbelievable," Head Coach Bill Self said, of Robinson. "He's just got to make some free throws. But he was so fired up and played so hard, and we all played pretty smart."
At first, it looked as if the heightened emotions would overwhelm the talented sophomore. After checking in to the game at the 16:47 mark of the first half to a raucous standing ovation, Robinson promptly missed a dunk and, in fact, failed to register a field goal in the first half, scoring just two points.
Fortunately, the Jayhawks didn't need his scoring to open up a big lead early. Brothers Marcus and Markieff Morris pumped in 8 and 9 points respectively before intermission, and Josh Selby added seven of his own, as Kansas led 37-20 at the break.
Defensively, the first half was arguably the most complete 20 minutes of basketball Self's squad has played in the season to date. They held Kansas State to just 19.4-percent shooting from the floor in the half, and a meager 8.3-percent from three-point land. Those totals rose to 50-percent and 60-percent for the second half, but the Jayhawks were so molten hot from the floor that managed to extend the lead anyway – shooting 61.8-percent for the game and 50-percent from beyond the arc.
And in the second half, Robinson got things rolling. Just before the first media timeout of the half, he threaded a nifty bounce pass to a slashing Brady Morningstar from the high post, resulting in an easy layup. He then proceeded to score the next six Kansas points, the third of which – an 18-foot jumper that splashed through the net with ease – let him know his stroke was humming.
"After I hit the first two, I made my mind up on (K-State's) end that I was going to shoot that one," Robinson said after the game, laughing. "It was just momentum. That was a heat check."
In truth, almost every Jayhawk was firing on all cylinders offensively. Markieff Morris scored 11 points of his own in the second half, making all five of his shot attempts. Tyshawn Taylor added 9 points, 13 on the game, and gave Wildcats star Jacob Pullen fits on both ends of the floor.
The Jayhawks spread the wealth, too, assisting on 15 of their 23 field goals in the half, and turning it over just five times. They finished with 20 assists and 14 turnovers for the game.
"If we want to talk about Thomas, he was great," Self said. "If we want to talk about the game, Markieff controlled the game inside. He was terrific. Josh lit it up. Everybody was solid. The one guy who kind of controlled the game from start to finish was Tyshawn. I thought he was terrific tonight."
But for Robinson – who exited the game just as he entered it, to a standing ovation – this one had to mean just a little bit more. It certainly did for the 16,300 fans cheering him on every step of the way.
"It was amazing," he said. "But coming into this game I felt that I owed it to all the fans and all the people across the country that have helped me get through this hard time."
With the victory, the Jayhawks improve to 20-1 on the year, and 5-1 in Big 12 play. They next travel to Lubbock, Texas on Tuesday night to take on the Red Raiders of Texas Tech.