Jayhawks crack Buckeyes, 78-67

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Okay, so maybe Jared Sullinger didn't play Saturday. Head Coach Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks knew the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes still represented a formidable challenge, which is why their victory was - in the words of junior guard of Elijah Johnson - just what the Jayhawks needed.

It's easy to forget sometimes that these are kids out on the court.

Heading into Saturday's greatly-anticipated match-up with Ohio State, Kansas junior Elijah Johnson had connected on just two of his last 14 attempts from beyond the arc through three games.

Johnson is a good shooter. Just ask Bill Self. In practice, he's been on fire - "unbelievable," in Self's words. He's done it in games before as well, such as when he splashed four of them in a Nov. 22 victory over UCLA in Maui.

But for whatever reason, lately, they just weren't falling. But Saturday, something was different. Johnson's father was in the stands at Allen Fieldhouse, and that little nudge was all it took to open the floodgates.

"That was a big, big deal to him, because he hadn't had the chance," Self said. "I just think little things like that, that when a kid is struggling and you've got a parent here, I just think it gave him a little boost."

Johnson exploded versus the Buckeyes, going 5-for-7 from three-point range, as Kansas defeated Ohio State 78-67.

"I know I can shoot the ball, and I'm pretty sure everyone in Kansas knows I can shoot the ball," Johnson said. "It just wasn't falling at the time. I focus on stuff like guarding, because I feel like that loosens you up and puts you on the right track of mind back on offense."

Touted as a tilt not just between Top 15 teams but between two of the top big men in the game - Thomas Robinson of the Jayhawks and Jared Sullinger of the Buckeyes - it was announced just prior to tip-off that Sullinger would be held out due to a lingering back injury.

While deflating for fans and players to a degree, Kansas never lost focus for a second. A lot of that had to do with Allen Fieldhouse, according to Self, which was packed to the rafters and juiced to the max.

However, their respect for the Buckeyes goes beyond just Sullinger, Robinson said. They knew they were dangerous even without their dominant power forward.

The Jayhawks have endured a brutal non-conference schedule, having faced the likes of Kentucky, Georgetown, UCLA, Duke and Long Beach State prior to Saturday's game. After falling to both Kentucky and Duke , they knew they needed this one to be able to consider the non-conference season a success.

So this victory was, in a word, big.

"It's the game we needed," Johnson said. "We knew we wouldn't fail three times in a row. We knew we wouldn't. We had to go to New York for mutual ground, and we had to meet Duke in Maui. But no one comes in the Fieldhouse and just beats us."

On the strength of the emotion flowing through their home court and a charged-up crowd, Kansas jumped out to an early 9-2 lead - and never looked back. Self's squad maintained the lead and control of the game through all 40 minutes.

"I thought we did some really good things when we had to do some good things," Self said. "We're not going to apologize for beating Ohio State without Sullinger. It's still a great win for us, we beat a top 10 team even without him.

Every time Ohio State crept closer and closed the gap, they found an answer, and from some unexpected sources.

With Robinson uncharacteristically sluggish during the first half - he scored seven points and failed to grab a single rebound - junior transfer Kevin Young chose the right day to have a breakout game.

He scored nine points in the first half - 14 during the game - on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting. But it was the little things he did, beyond simply scoring, that made an even bigger impact. He drew charges on back-to-back possessions, and dished to Robinson on a nifty high-low play for a thunderous dunk during the second half.

The Kansas gameplan defensively, with Sullinger on the bench, focused on point guard Aaron Craft. Self wanted to keep Craft out of the lane, which meant allowing forward Deshaun Thomas more room to operate on the perimeter - and he made the Jayhawks pay.

Thomas went 5-for-8 in the first half, including 3-for-5 from beyond the arc, during the first half. After intermission, Self maintained the same gameplan, with a twist – he subbed early and put the quick, athletic Young on him.

The move worked, as Young pestered Thomas into just 2-for-6 during the final 20 minutes, and 0-for-2 from deep.

"Kevin probably had as much to do with us winning the game as anything," Self said. "He scored points for us, but he did a great job on Thomas the second half. A great job."

"I think it just came together," Young added, of his play. "My shots were falling, I got great open shots thanks to my teammates being able to move the ball and penetrate, and being able to see me open in the lane or cutting to the basket."

The Buckeyes closed the gap to five with 4:16 remaining in the game, 66-61, but Robinson took over down the stretch, scoring seven straight points to help extend the lead.

After the game, Self revealed that starting point guard Tyshawn Taylor suffered a torn meniscus and a sprained MCL in practice Tuesday. Team doctors advised him that waiting four extra days for surgery wouldn't bring a significant risk of additional injury - it was just about Taylor dealing with the pain.

He told Self there was "no way" he was missing Saturday's game, and responded well, scoring nine points and dishing out 13 assists - though he did turn it over seven times as well.

"Where would we be without him?" Self asked. "We don't win the game against Long Beach unless he plays, and we certainly don't win the game tonight unless he plays. I thought everybody should really appreciate how bad he wanted to be out there, because he's definitely not 100-percent."

Taylor will undergo surgery tomorrow, and miss anywhere from one to three weeks.

Robinson led Kansas in scoring with 21 points, adding seven second-half rebounds as well. Johnson added 15 points, Kevin Young put in 14 and Travis Releford added 10.

The Jayhawks now have a break as the team prepares to take their final exams. They return to the court Dec. 19 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, to take on Davidson.

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