Kansas coach Bill Self talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 66-58 victory over Texas A&M on Feb. 22, 2012.
College Station, Texas Billy Kennedy gambled and lost.
The Texas A&M coach figured putting more defensive attention on Kansas University forward Thomas Robinson would give his team the best chance against the Jayhawks.
As a result, KU guard Elijah Johnson broke free for 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting in the Jayhawks’ 66-58 victory Wednesday night.
“That’s the mark of a good team that’s got talented players. Elijah Johnson’s a good player,” Kennedy said. “We took a chance to try to take Robinson away and leave (Johnson) open. He was struggling from the three the last five games — really was struggling. He’s a good player, and he stepped up and made shots.”
Johnson scored 18 of his points in the first half, as KU built a 31-21 advantage. The Jayhawks extended that lead to 47-26 with 13:25 left.
“You can’t give Kansas a 20-point lead on your home court and expect to play perfect and come back and win,” Kennedy said. “The only thing I would say is that we didn’t throw in the towel. We had opportunities to cash it in, and we battled a little bit.”
Texas A&M made a run with a smaller lineup, moving Khris Middleton to the power forward spot to create a mismatch.
The result was Middleton’s scoring 23 points — the most he’d had in a game since scoring 24 against Louisiana-Monroe on Dec. 10.
Middleton contributed 11 points during A&M’s 16-2 run that cut KU’s lead to 57-53 with 1:56 left.
Kennedy said the one of the biggest turning points came then, as KU guard Tyshawn Taylor drove to the basket, making a shot off the glass while drawing a blocking foul on A&M’s Zach Kinsley. Taylor added the free throw to push KU’s advantage back to seven.
“I thought it was a charge, but I didn’t see it,” Kennedy said. “We just didn’t get a break. We needed some breaks. I didn’t think we had some things go our way, but you make your own breaks, too.”
Though A&M had a chance to win late, it didn’t help itself with a poor offensive performance in the first half.
The Aggies went just 9-for-31 in the opening 20 minutes (29 percent) while attempting only one free throw.
“We just didn’t take smart shots,” A&M point guard Dash Harris said. “We rushed up quick shots that weren’t good looks, weren’t good team looks. It put us in a hole. Like I just told my teammates, we can’t play against a Top-10 team — or any teams — playing from behind like that.”
Even though A&M ended up shooting 50 percent from the floor in the second half (12 of 24), Kennedy admitted it wasn’t his team’s most graceful effort.
“We’re sorry y’all had to watch that,” Kennedy said. “It was an ugly game. Fortunately both teams were ugly.”