Tyshawn Taylor was feeling it the second half against South Florida. And that was a good sign, since some of his teammates were battling illness and not feeling 100 percent during KU's 70-42 victory over USF Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
Taylor scored 20 of his season-high 24 points the final 20 minutes while also making 4-of-5 three-pointers that pivotal second half, which helped KU run away from the pesky Bulls.
"I thought Taylor was the difference in the second half," USF coach Stan Heath said of the senior guard, who shot 8-of-10 from the field while also recording five assists and a steal in 33 minutes.
It was Taylor who hit KU's third straight three-pointer after Travis Releford and Conner Teahan knocked two down, which broke open a tight 37-31 game and push KU's lead to 47-33 with 9:36 remaining in the game. After then hitting two free throws, Taylor's three ball at the 5:24 mark gave Kansas its biggest lead of the game, 56-37.
And the Jayhawks just kept rolling from there.
Taylor talked about those three-straight back-breaking threes by Releford, Teahan and himself.
"(Travis and I) were talking about it after the game. We didn't even realize the score had kind of spaced out," Taylor said. "We were just playing. I think our focus was a little bit more into our defense and not really our offense. Our offense was just coming. ...I think those threes were big for that run for us. It kind of took the lid off the basket."
KU wound up shooting 53.8 percent in the second half and 46 percent for the game, while holding the Bulls to just 32.6 percent shooting and a dismal 11.1 percent (1-9) from beyond the arc in the second half.
Thomas Robinson (14 points and eight rebounds) and Conner Teahan (11 points) were the other Jayhawks in double figures. KU outscored USF 30 to 14 in the paint and 20 to two on fastbreak points, while scoring 16 points off South Florida's 19 turnovers.
KU also limited USF's leading scorer Victor Rudd, Jr. (he entered the game averaging 12.5 points per game) to just five points on 1-of-5 shooting, while third-leading scorer Ron Anderson, Jr. (he entered the contest averaging 11.0 ppg) managed just two points. Senior forward Augustus Gilchrist was the only Bulls' player in double figures with 11 points.
While the second half enlivened the crowd at times, the first half was a grind-it-out battle where there were nine lead changes and five ties. With both teams laboring to score, the game was tied at 19-all with 3:33 remaining before halftime before KU went on a 5-0 run before junior guard Shaun Noriega's jumper with 26 seconds left cut the Jayhawks' lead to three (24-21) entering halftime.
KU's 24 first-half points were actually the fewest points the Jayhawks had scored in one half since Jan. 10, 2009 in a 75-62 loss at Michigan State — a 98-game span.
Kansas, though, came out hustling after halftime and pushed its lead to 31-21 early in the second half, capped off by a layup and free throw by Taylor, before USF rallied and got within five twice (31-26 at the 15:45 mark and 36-31 with 12:17 remaining) before Jeff Withey hit two free throws and Releford started that three-point barrage, which put the game away.
For KU, it was a tale of two halves.
"I think we came out with a different attitude (in the second half)," Taylor said. "The first half was kind of slow, a little sluggish. We didn't really have much energy. I think in the second half, coach (Bill Self) talked to us about coming out with more energy, pressure the ball a little bit more, get some fastbreak points, and that's what we did."
While Self was glad KU won the game, he was not happy with his team's play, especially the first half.
"I just think we were awful," Self said. "I told our guys before the season that we were going to have to really enjoy winning ugly because we don't have as many offensive weapons that what we've had in the past, but they've taken it to a different level than I ever imagined. But if you said before the game that we'd win by 28 against a Big East team, I would have said, ‘We'd have to play great,' and we did do some really good things second half defensively and got out and ran some, but still that was a pretty lackluster performance."
The "lackluster performance" could have been due, in some part, to KU's players coming down with the "crud."
"I think maybe our sickness a little bit had something to do with it," Self said. "I don't think guys were all there emotionally. ... It's just the crud going around. Everybody's getting it."
One player who didn't look sick on Saturday was Taylor, who brought KU to life after halftime.
"He was the best player in the second half," Self said. "He made shots. I think he only had a couple of turnovers the second half. I hate where we're relying on him to score that much, but when you're shooting the ball like he did tonight, that was a big positive for us."
KU, which improved to 5-2, next hosts Long Beach State on Tuesday in Allen Fieldhouse at 8 p.m.