LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) – Texas A&M did just about everything right against No. 5 Kansas by slowing the pace, packing it in against Thomas Robinson and freeing up Elston Turner to shoot from outside.
It still wasn’t enough to pull out a win.
Turner finished with a career-best 24 points, but the Jayhawks managed to grind out a 64-54 victory behind Robinson’s 18 points and 17 from Tyshawn Taylor.
“I’m proud of the way our guys competed. I thought we gave ourselves an opportunity to win. Thomas Robinson and their length, and their free-throw shooting, was a big key in them getting the win,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “We executed our game plan about as well as we could.”
The Aggies (11-8, 2-5 Big 12) played without Khris Middleton, their second-leading scorer, who was out with a right knee injury that he tweaked over the weekend. Senior guard Dash Harris also came up gimpy but played the entire game.
“The whole team had to step up,” Turner said. “We showed glimpses of it. Daniel Alexander hit a couple of shots, Naji (Hibbert) is contributing, Dash is doing his thing.”
Hibbert, who started in Middleton’s place, scored just three points in 26 minutes.
“You look at how limited we are, you lose Khris Middleton, that puts a lot of pressure on our team,” Kennedy said. “We really struggle offensively.”
Kansas ran out to a quick 11-0 lead, but Texas A&M buckled down and scored 18 of the next 22 points to take a three-point lead.
“We stayed composed,” Turner said. “We’ve been in that position before and we trusted each other and competed. When you do that, you give yourself a great chance to win.”
The Aggies took a 30-28 lead into halftime — it had been 10-0 when leading at the break — before Kansas finally asserted itself in the second half. The Jayhawks went ahead 40-38 and never trailed the rest of the way.
Kennedy even took a timeout after a shot-clock violation because he thought his team needed to settle down. He figured with his team trailing by two, it was the right time to burn it.
“We attacked the rim a couple of times and didn’t get to the free-throw line,” Kennedy said. “We got rattled a little bit.”
Taylor added 17 points in another solid performance for Kansas (17-3, 7-0 Big 12), which won its 10th straight and extended its winning streak at Allen Fieldhouse to 17 in a row.
Kansas is 18-1 against Texas A&M, the lone loss coming in February 2007.
“We know it’s a crazy atmosphere coming into Allen Fieldhouse. The crowd is going to get into it,” said David Loubeau, who added 15 points for the Aggies. “They got off to a good start. We just kept our poise and played hard.”
They just couldn’t contend with the Jayhawks’ superior size, strength and quickness.
They certainly couldn’t contend with Robinson in the paint.
One of the leading candidates for national player of the year, the junior forward was held to two points in the first half on 1-for-6 shooting, as Texas A&M collapsed two or three defenders on him whenever he got the ball in the post.
He started bulling his way to the basket more effectively in the second half, going to the foul line 10 times — and making all of them. He also finished with 10 rebounds.
“The defense was trying not to let me touch it, so I had to knock my free throws down,” Robinson said. “I just kept posting up. I just got the whistle more in the second half.”
His play in the paint, coupled with a big run during the middle part of the second half, allowed Kansas to coast the rest of the way against the team that was picked by the league’s coaches as the co-favorite to win the Big 12 along with the Jayhawks.
While Kansas remains the lone unbeaten team in conference play, Texas A&M has lost seven of its last 10 games and is already in danger of playing itself out of the NCAA tournament.
“We played bad. But give A&M credit,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Defensively they’re good. We weren’t going to hang 80 on A&M tonight. I didn’t think that at all.”
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