Originally published February 22, 2011 at 12:00a.m., updated February 22, 2011 at 10:42a.m.
Kansas defeated Oklahoma State on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas coach Bill Self talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 92-65 victory over Oklahoma State on Feb. 21, 2011.
Lou Gehrig didn’t become Lou Gehrig in one night, so it’s a little early to fit Tyshawn Taylor for the moniker Wally Pipp, but Elijah Johnson’s performance in the first game of Taylor’s untimely indefinite suspension opened a door that Johnson walked through quite gracefully Monday.
After Johnson contributed 15 points and three assists with just two turnovers in Kansas University’s 92-65 rout of Oklahoma State in Allen Fieldhouse, the victorious coach made it clear with several statements that the starting point-guard position is Johnson’s to lose.
As Arte Johnson used to say on Rowan and Martin Laugh-In, “Interesting. Very interesting.” And Johnson — Elijah, not Arte — only got the start because the special device for Josh Selby’s shoe was at his mother’s house, so he wasn’t ready to start until the correct shoe was retrieved for him.
While it’s true that if a team has three point guards sharing the job, it actually doesn’t have any point guards, that’s not a death sentence to national-title hopes in this season of imperfection in college basketball.
It doesn’t get much easier for a player to break into the starting lineup than playing a home game against an Oklahoma State team one year after the James Anderson era and one season before LeBryan Nash’s arrival, in other words an atypically vulnerable Cowboys squad. Still, Johnson showed enough to want to see what he can do Saturday on the road against Oklahoma and again at home March 2 when Texas A&M visits on Senior Day.
As baseball lore has it, Pip was hung over, said he was sick and asked out of the lineup, and Gehrig saw to it that he never got back in. Taylor, of course, didn’t ask out of the lineup. He was told by his coach that whatever team rule he broke, he got caught breaking it.
The team needed either Johnson, who started the season with a two-game suspension for non-specific knuckle-headed behavior, or Selby to play terrifically to shift the focus away from Taylor’s latest self-destructive transgression. Johnson did so by for the most part being content to run the offense that very often resulted in either Marcus Morris showing why he’s a strong Big 12 Player of the Year candidate or in Johnson hitting a jumper he didn’t hurry.
Maybe Taylor’s the last to fall into line and is shocked into cerebral play on and off the court, or maybe coach Bill Self lets Johnson take the reins. Taylor need only look at specific instances of the Morris twins from the past two games to realize it’s possible to let the mind defeat emotions, one of life’s never-ending battles for most of us.
Midway through the second half of Saturday’s victory against Colorado, Markieff snared a rebound in traffic, and his elbows were pointed outward when he came down with it as Buffaloes from all directions were trying to slap at the ball. The natural, emotional response would have had Markieff swinging his elbows to clear space. It looked as if he was about to do just that, but he checked his swing in the nick of time, drew his elbows to his body and covered up the ball. Not missing a beat, the crowd applauded him for his cool-headed play.
His personable brother Marcus, clearly wounded by the heat his brother took in the wake of a three-point, no-rebound night in the loss at Kansas State, was nothing short of terrific Monday, scoring 27 points, leaping to the heavens for an on-ball blocked shot and going out of his way afterward to praise his twin, the star of the Colorado game. Oklahoma State’s wide-body power forward Matt Pilgrim looked as if on a mission to trigger Marcus’ temper at the outset of the game, talking trash to him and bumping him constantly and even nailing him with an elbow. Marcus let Pilgrim play the role of bouncer, and he played the role of the bartender tossing glasses in the air, catching them, pouring drinks with style and pretty much making himself the center of attention without moving his lips.
“It’s hard to say he was trying to,” Marcus said. “At the beginning of the game, he gave me a little ’bow to show he was there. And I gave him 27 (points) to show I was there.”
Taylor also could learn watching the way Johnson, not nearly as quick afoot as Taylor, stayed focused defensively in chasing Keiton Page, the Cowboys’ sawed-off gunner, around screens and frustrating him into a 2-for-11 shooting performance. Self detailed how Johnson played a few of those screens the wrong way, and Johnson also didn’t look like a point guard when he turned it over when trapped near halfcourt once and again threw it away when trying to feed Markieff in the post from an awkward angle. Johnson wasn’t perfect, but he played well enough to make Self tell the world he has a serious shot at stealing Taylor’s job.
Maybe Self said what he said to capture Taylor’s attention, or maybe the coach simply has grown weary of inconsistent point-guard play and is ready to turn the job over to the most consistent performer.
North Carolina’s season turned for the better when junior Larry Drew II was benched in favor of freshman Kendall Marshall. St. Louis Cardinals ace Joaquin Andujar once said, “Baseball can be summed up in one word: Youneverknow.” The same goes for basketball.
• A previous version of this story was updated.