With the post-game press conference winding down and all three of the Kansas player attendees still clearly basking in the glow of a 92-65 beatdown victory over Oklahoma State, a reporter asked junior forward Marcus Morris about the play of sophomore point guard Elijah Johnson.
"He came in and gave us great minutes," Morris said. "He came in and stepped up. He played like a senior point guard. And I think if we get that play out of him all year, even when Ty (Taylor) gets bak, we're going to be a good team."
With no further questions forthcoming, the room was silent save for the clacking of keyboards for a moment or two, before Johnson leaned toward the microphone.
"Thanks, Mook," he said, voice laden with sincerity and without cracking a smile.
The media room burst into laughter, but the truth was Johnson earned those words of praise – and then some.
Just hours after junior point guard Tyshawn Taylor was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules, it looked as if freshman Josh Selby would be thrust into the starting role. When he misplaced the shoe orthotic that keeps his injured foot protected, however, the torch was passed to Johnson.
The athletic 6-foot-2 guard from Las Vegas said he viewed it as a challenge; one for which he was ready.
The stat line doesn't lie. In 30 minutes of playing time, Johnson scored 15 points, shot an efficient 5-of-6 from the field, including a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the arc and doled out three assists.
Perhaps more importantly, he took care of the basketball – turning it over just twice – and played lockdown defense on Cowboys point guard Keiton Page.
"We haven't had good point guard defensive play consistently like I think we could, and this was by far, in recent memory that I can remember, the best job that anybody has done as far as being sound on a guy," said Head Coach Bill Self.
Self said he has seen flashes of this version of Elijah Johnson in practice for weeks, but for whatever reason those flashes never seemed to completely coalesce.
On the court, he explained, Johnson just has trouble getting out of his own way sometimes. It's been that way since he arrived on campus in 2009.
But not Monday night. The Jayhawks have been starved for consistent point guard play of late, and with the season winding down Johnson's breakout performance may have gone a long way toward allowing him to plant his flag on the starting position for the duration.
But, as Self said, it's one thing to do it at home, feeding off the energy of 16,300 crimson and blue-clad supporters. It's another thing entirely to do it on the road.
"Hopefully this will be a confidence boost for him," Self said. "We're moving forward, and I'm not going to make any brash statements on who is going to be our starter for the rest of the year or anything, but the ball is definitely in his court."
* Self called Thomas Robinson "an amazing dude" for being able to bounce back so quickly from surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He went under the knife Feb. 11 and was expected to miss two weeks, had the sutures removed Friday, practiced Sunday and and returned to the court to score six points and grab six rebounds in just 10 minutes.
The guy is like Superman.
* The future of Tyshawn Taylor is uncertain. Self said that Taylor is going to have to do some things first in order to get back. He "put himself above everyone else here of late." Self declined to elaborate further on the nature of the transgression that led to the suspension, but did say he didn't know how long it would last.