No. 5 Kansas Grinds Out Home Win Against Texas A&M, 64-54

Jan. 23, 2012

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – A clutch second-half performance from junior forward Thomas Robinson powered No. 5 Kansas past Texas A&M, 64-54, in a defensive battle at Allen Fieldhouse on ESPN’s Big Monday.

Monday night’s matchup featured the Big 12’s No. 1 and No. 2 in scoring defense and, predictably, defense played a primary role from the opening tip. Tagged along with Kansas atop the Big 12 preseason poll, Texas A&M (11-8, 2-5) came to Lawrence as the only team in the league to surrender 60 points per game. Kansas (17-3, 7-0) used 16 second-half points from Robinson to break that 60-point barrier and seal the victory.

After an uncharacteristic two points from Robinson in the first half, the junior forward hit a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line in the final 20 minutes. The flawless performance marked the first since Wayne Simien’s 11-for-11 effort from the charity stripe in a victory against Colorado in the 2005 season.

Robinson paired his 18 points with 10 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season and tied a career high with four blocks. Fellow big man Jeff Withey brought the defensive effort, as well, blocking eight shots – the sixth time in KU history a player has blocked eight or more shots, including a nine-block effort from the junior earlier this season. The duo joined forces to out-block the visiting A&M squad, 12-0.

Without the use of junior forward Khris Middleton, the team’s second-leading scorer, the Aggies relied on junior guard Elston Turner. The game’s only 20-plus scorer, Turner snapped the career high he set two days ago against Oklahoma with 24 points on Monday night.

Senior guard Tyshawn Taylor missed his fourth-straight 20-point game by just three points, but kicked off the game on a mini 5-0 run. The Jayhawks shot out to an 11-0 lead while keeping the Aggies off the scoreboard through the first five minutes.

Stretching their defensive muscles, the Jayhawks amassed three steals in the first four minutes on the evening, as the lead stretched to 13-2.

Texas A&M entered the evening at the bottom of the Big 12 in three-point field goal percentage, but hardly looked the part in the opening half. The Aggies used three treys to ignite a 13-2 run of their own, tying the game at 15-15. Freshman forward Daniel Alexander extended the run when he connected from beyond the arc – the fourth Aggie three-pointer in the game’s first 10 minutes – to hand Texas A&M its first lead of the contest, 18-15.

The lopsided scoring rallies evolved into the teams trading baskets as the five-minute mark approached in the opening frame. Strong defensive outputs continued from both sides when A&M’s Dash Harris swiped a pass near the Aggies’ basket and converted it into a three-point play, to push the visitors ahead, 28-23.

On the Kansas side, back-to-back blocks from Withey kept the Aggies off the board long enough to even the game, 28-28, for the final minute of the half. Junior guard Elijah Johnson’s steal came up empty handed, however, after A&M’s Harris grabbed the rebound and sprinted down the court for a fast break layup and the 30-28 halftime lead.

Out of the break, both teams came out hitting 50 percent from the field by the first media timeout. Taylor, the only player in double figures in the first half, drained a three to put Kansas ahead by one, setting the tone for a grinding final half.

Holding a slim 40-38 lead, consecutive KU defensive stands fired up a sold out crowd but only fueled the low-scoring battle as neither team would score for nearly five minutes. Predictably, as soon as junior guard Travis Releford broke the silence with a jumper in the lane, TAMU answered with a bucket on its next trip down the floor to keep the game close, 42-40.

Robinson took it from there. The junior center cranked out seven-straight points as Kansas diligently climbed its way back to its first double-figure lead since early in the first half, 55-45. The KU bigs came through in the clutch as Robinson and Withey combined for 15 of the Jayhawks final 22 points of the half.

Free throws from Taylor and Johnson helped KU reach its best free-throw percentage of the season (87.0), while sealing the victory, 64-54.

No. 5 Kansas hits the road to play at Iowa State on Saturday, Jan. 28 at 1 p.m., on ESPN. The Jayhawks overcame a 12-point, second-half deficit to defeat the Cyclones, 82-73, on Jan. 14 in Allen Fieldhouse.