Tears and Cheers on Senior Night

Not a dry eye in the house, and Bill Self's Kansas Jayhawks celebrate Senior Night with a huge win over Texas Tech. More from Phog.net's David Garfield, inside.

Thirty minutes before tipoff between Kansas and Texas Tech on Senior Night in Allen Fieldhouse, a KU student proudly held up a sign in the north end zone:

“4 4 Years Of My Life, RussRob Has Been What Makes My Heart Throb!”

Indeed, senior guard Russell Robinson has been shown a lot of love during his career. And so have the other four members of the senior class — Jeremy Case, Rodrick Stewart, Sasha Kaun, and Darnell Jackson.

And the love was never greater than Monday night.

The adoration officially began minutes before tipoff when the seniors were introduced with their parents. One by one, the players carried flowers and gave them to their loved ones. As the cheerleaders tossed out flowers on the court, Stewart smiled and did a little shake. Case pumped his fist in the air, Kaun raised both fists to the heavens, Robinson grinned from ear to ear, and Jackson walked slowly and purposely, with flowers in hand, to greet his mom, Shawn, and uncle Ed with a warm, tight hug.

The 16,300 fans cheered wildly.

And then the seniors posed for pictures with their families.

After highlights of the seniors were shown on the video board and all were introduced in the starting lineup, the cheers grew even louder. Heck, the game hadn’t even started but Texas Tech had no chance. Not with this much emotion, not with this much pride, not with KU tied for first place with Texas in the Big 12, and certainly not on Senior Night in the Phog.

Oh sure, the Red Raiders kept it close for the first nine minutes. Texas Tech was down just 17-14 at the 11:38 mark before the Jayhawks heated up and went on a 34-12 run to close the half. You just knew it was KU’s night watching the ‘Hawks last field goal at the halftime buzzer. Junior guard Mario Chalmers drove the lane, jumped in the air and threw up a one-handed shot over his head. Junior forward Darrell Arthur rebounded the air ball and threw it down.

Only on Senior Night.

And KU was just getting started.

The Jayhawks increased their lead to 77-36 when Case took over. The senior, who had missed his last two shots and hadn’t made a field goal since Jan. 12 against Nebraska, suddenly caught fire. He swished his first three ball with 10:16 remaining in the game. After missing a three-pointer less than a minute later, he ripped the nets for a three at the 8:47 mark. Twenty seconds later, Case nailed another three ball for a season-high nine points.

As former KU announcer Max Falkenstien said after the game when introducing Case for his senior speech: “He found the zone tonight.”

Case followed up his three quick three-pointers with two assists on the next two possessions, one dish to fellow senior Stewart, who knocked down his own three-pointer, his first three since Dec. 5 against Eastern Washington.

Everybody got in on the action Monday night. In all, 15 of 16 players scored. And while walk-on Chase Buford didn’t enter the scoring column, he managed a blocked shot and steal within the last minute. Senior walk-on Brad Witherspoon, who actually has another year left in school but will not play next season with his academic demands, hit two free throws late in the game for his first two points of the season.

Self took out the seniors for the last time with 1:51 remaining in the game after Jackson had just made a nifty, driving layup and got fouled. First, Case and Stewart exited the game. Then Kaun and Robinson headed to the bench. The Allen Fieldhouse crowd cheered, clapped, and gave these players some heartfelt love. Robinson, Stewart, Jackson, Case, and Kaun all embraced their coaches and teammates on the bench.

After Jackson made his free throw for the three-point play, he stood proudly, waved to the crowd, hugged substitute Matt Kleinmann, and joined the rest of the seniors on the bench for the last time in Allen Fieldhouse.

With walk-on Brennan Bechard scoring a layup for the final points of the game with 21 seconds left, it was all over. The buzzer soon expired, and KU made history. The 109-51 score was the largest margin of victory ever in a conference game for Kansas, edging a 56-point win over Nebraska on Feb. 8, 1958. The 58-point margin was also the biggest loss in Tech history.

KU scored the most points all year and the most scored in the Bill Self era. Six players scored in double figures for the first time all season, led by Robinson with 15. The Jayhawks also dished out a season-high 27 assists, grabbed a season-best 54 rebounds, and made a season-high 14 three-point field goals.

After all the energy, after all the emotion, after all the excitement, the senior speeches began. By the time the speeches were done 24 minutes later, there was probably not a dry eye in the house. Each senior spoke from the heart about what the fans, academic support, their teammates, coaches, friends and family meant to them.

When it was Jackson’s time to speak, Stewart brought him some tissues. Jackson asked his mom to stand up, and with Shawn wiping away tears, Darnell told her how much he loved her.

Jackson, who has lost several family members during his career, including his grandmother and a cousin who died just a few weeks ago, fought back tears during his speech.

“It hurts so bad because I wish I could take your pain away and put it inside me,” Jackson told his family. “I love you.”

And then there was Case. He showed his love to the fans who have given him and the seniors so much support the last four years.

“Tonight was the best,” he said. “We’re going to do a lot of great things this year. The last thing I want to say is you guys (fans) are amazing. I’ll never forget you guys. I’m so proud to be a part of this tradition, and it’s all because of you.”

Self was pretty proud of his senior class.

“I’ve never had a better one,” he said after the game.

And the speeches were top-notch.

“I told them (players) that the writers for (President George) Bush and (presidential candidate John) McCain and (presidential candidate Hillary) Clinton and (presidential candidate Barack) Obama, or whoever, they couldn’t have written better speeches than what those guys gave tonight,” Self said. “That’s pretty refreshing and rewarding as a coach to see that.”

Self said he almost got choked up before the game during the pregame senior introductions. He relayed to the media what he told his players after the game.

“Let’s be honest, kids go to school because they’re in a hurry to get out, at least in the athletic world,” Self said. “Everyone dreams of being a pro, and I think it’s great and if the time’s right, they need to do it. But this is a night these guys will treasure for the rest of their lives. It’s a shame that not everybody gets to experience this, because it’s going to mean an awful lot to them for a long time.” 

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