March 4, 2013
Per tradition, the home finale also doubles as an emotional night for Kansas (26-4, 14-3) and its fans as seniors Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey and Kevin Young were recognized prior to and following the contest with Texas Tech (10-18, 3-14). For the 26th time this season, all four seniors along with redshirt freshman Ben McLemore started the game together and, for the 26th time, they came away with a win.
Fittingly on the night dedicated to them, the seniors stood out. By the end of the first half, Johnson had tied Jayhawk legends Kirk Hinrich and Ryan Robertson for the most assists in a half for conference game (9) before ending his home finale with a career-high 12 dimes, the fourth time in his senior campaign the Las Vegas native has posted 10 or more assists. Withey ended his night one rebound shy of a double-double. The San Diego, Calif., native racked up 22 points on a career-high tying eight field goals, nine rebounds and four blocks. Young missed only once on Monday, scoring 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting and 4-of-4 from the free throw line, while Releford hit 8-of-10 free throws en route to 13 points.
The Jayhawk foursome – who each took their turn giving the traditional senior speeches after the game – will leave a lasting legacy at Kansas. Thus far, the class of 2013 has won four regular season-Big 12 titles (Releford 4, Johnson and Withey 3, Young 1), two Big 12 Tournament championships (2010, 2011), advanced to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight twice and one Final Four, including last year’s run to the NCAA championship game. On Monday, the group also saw the Jayhawks win its 30th-consecutive home finale.
With the victory, Kansas takes a half-game lead in the Big 12 title race over in-state rival Kansas State (24-5, 13-3), who hosts TCU Tuesday.
In possibly his last game in Lawrence as well, McLemore rounded out the Jayhawk leaders with 13 points and five rebounds.
Through the early minutes on Monday night, a 7-0 Kansas start prompted a quick timeout from the Tech bench. Midway through the first half, however, neither team was rolling as Tech inched it way back to a smaller, 10-3 deficit by the 10-minute mark. An alley-oop from Johnson to Young followed quickly by another put-back dunk from Young rejuvenated the Jayhawks as they bounded out on a 19-2 run, comprised entirely by the Kansas seniors.
Withey added an exclamation point to the game-changing scoring run with a three-pointer, drilling the first and only attempt from behind the arc for his entire career. The trey kicked KU’s lead out to 20 points, 32-12, and Tech took another timeout. A tip-in from sophomore forward Jordan Tolbert pushed the Red Raiders over the 20-point plateau in the final second of the opening half as Kansas went to break with a commanding, 45-20 lead.
Tolbert ended the night as the only Red Raider in double figures, leading the team with 16 points.
KU sprinted out to an 8-0 lead to start the second half, eclipsing the 30-point margin just two minutes into the frame, 53-20. While the Jayhawk defense held the Red Raiders to just two field goals through the first seven minutes, the offense keep its foot on the gas.
With the game already in hand, head coach Bill Self gave his reserves nearly five minutes on the floor before checking his starting five back into the game. Together, the crew strung together a 16-3 run before checking out for the final time with 4:45 on the clock and a 77-38 lead.
As the focus turned toward the anticipation of the annual senior speeches, the new generation of Jayhawks held down the lead for the remaining minutes to walk away with the 79-42 win. The 37-point margin of defeat on Senior Night marked the largest since KU’s 109-51 victory in the 2007-08 home finale – also against Texas Tech.