By Matt Tait.
Fire, toughness and Naadir Tharpe.
Those were the main ingredients for the Kansas University men's basketball team, which drubbed 10th-ranked Kansas State, 83-62, Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
The victory, which was all but sealed during the first quarter of game action, snapped an unusual three-game losing streak for the Jayhawks, who improved to 20-4 overall and climbed back into a tie for first place in the Big 12 with an 8-3 conference mark. The loss dropped K-State to 19-5 and 8-3, but KU owns the tiebreaker by way of its season sweep of the team from Manhattan.
Monday's game looked a lot like so many Allen Fieldhouse match-ups between these two Sunflower State rivals. The Jayhawks were more aggressive, played with more energy and benefited from a ton of love pouring out of the stands in the old arena.
Ben McLemore led all scorers with 30 points on 9-of-13 shooting and Jeff Withey moved into first place on KU's all-time blocks list all by himself with five blocks on the night, giving him 263 for his career, five ahead of Greg Ostertag's old record of 258.
While both of those performances certainly were welcomed by the home team, they also have come to be somewhat expected. What has not was the night from Tharpe.
The sophomore, who played 15 minutes in the first half and 27 overall, poured in seven points before halftime on 3-of-5 shooting and added six assists, with no turnovers, to help the Jayhawks race out to a 47-29 halftime lead.
For the game, Tharpe finished with seven points and eight assists, one turnover also did a more than admirable job of guarding KSU stud Rodney McGruder throughout much of the first half.
Here’s a quick look back at some of the action.
• The game turned when: Red-shirt freshman Ben McLemore was fouled and dropped to the floor by K-State center Jordan Henriquez. Henriquez was called for a flagrant foul, McLemore got up — eventually — and buried two free throws to put Kansas up 12-7 with 13:28 to play in the first half and 11 minutes later the Jayhawks led 42-22 and the game was over. It wasn't so much
• Offensive highlight: There's no question that Jeff Withey's monster slam in the face of Jordan Henriquez and sent the KU big man to the free throw line was one of the best offensive moments for KU in this one. It came on a nifty pass from Jamari Traylor and sent Henriquez to the bench bleeding. Honorable mention here goes to sophomore PG Naadir Tharpe, who somehow scored a reverse layup at 4:07 in the first half to put KU up 38-19. Tharpe's bucket gave him 7 points for the half on 3-of-5 shooting. He also added six assists in 15 first-half minutes.
• Defensive highlight: Withey's first block of the night (on a jumper by Thomas Gipson at the 16:28 mark of the first half) moved the 7-foot senior into first place on KU's all-time blocks list by himself. It was hardly the only one Withey would get on this night — he finished with five and looked a lot more like his old, dominant Withey self throughout.
• Key stat: How about the lines for KU's two best players. With the team reeling and needing someone(s) to step up as a leader, senior Jeff Withey delivered with a monster night — 17 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks — and red-shirt freshman Ben McLemore scored a game-high 30 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including 6-of-10 from three-point range.
• Up next: The Jayhawks will enjoy the rest of the week off and return to action at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, when they play host to Texas at Allen Fieldhouse.