LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP)—Two days after his mother’s funeral, Thomas Robinson missed his first three shots, all from point-blank range, and picked up a couple of quick fouls.
The sellout crowd who had given him a standing ovation when he entered Saturday night’s game seemed to groan. But everyone understood. In one horrific three-week stretch, the 20-year-old Kansas sophomore had lost his grandfather, grandmother and mom—just about every adult family member he’d ever been close to.
Was he not quite ready to return to action?
And then, in one of the most stirring personal performances in the rich history of 56-year-old Allen Fieldhouse, Robinson went on to score 17 points and grab nine rebounds to lead the sixth-ranked Jayhawks past Kansas State 90-66.
“I know my mother wouldn’t want me to sit around crying forever,” he said. “Coming into this game, I felt that I owed it to all the fans and all the people across the country that have helped me get through this hard time.”
Robinson’s gritty performance even seemed inspiring to opponents. One of the first players to give him a big hug as soon as the game ended was Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen.
“Regardless if this is a rivalry or whatever, the things that he is going through right now are things you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy,” Pullen said. “I just told him that he has to use basketball as a tool for other things in life and to keep his head up at all times and things will get better.”
Markieff Morris had 20 points and nine rebounds, and Tyshawn Taylor had 13 points for the Jayhawks (20-1, 5-1 Big 12), who celebrated the 150th anniversary of Kansas’ statehood with their 181st victory over the outmanned Wildcats (14-8, 2-5) in a series that began in 1907.
Pullen had 21 points and became the all-time No. 2 scorer for Kansas State (14-8, 2-5), and added a steal to also take first place in that category.
Kansas coach Bill Self admitted that in normal times, he would probably have pulled Robinson out of the game after the slow, stumbling start.
“But I was going to do everything I could to let him play through that tonight,” Self said. “I knew he needed to be out there.”
When Robinson came off the bench less than 4 minutes into the game, the crowd of 16,300 gave him a standing ovation. Another huge roar accompanied him back to the bench for a quick rest.
“It is beyond amazing,” he said. “We have great people all across Kansas. This past month has really opened my yes to how amazing this place is. It is beyond words to describe how I feel and the love that I have for the University of Kansas and the fans.”
When the entire team and coaching staff returned late Thursday afternoon from services in Washington, D.C., for Lisa Robinson, they did not deny that they were exhausted. In one week, they had flown back and forth through three time zones and dealt with the deaths of Josh Selby’s close friend as well as the loss of Robinson’s mother.
But they showed no signs of fatigue against the Wildcats.
With Selby and Tyrel Reed hitting 3-pointers and Markieff Morris completing a three-point play, the Jayhawks bolted to a 15-2 lead en route to their 15th win in their last 16 meetings with Kansas State. In the Big 12 era, the series stands at a lopsided 34-2.
Jamar Samuels was the only other Wildcat in double figures with 10 points.
In one quick flurry in the first half, Robinson had three straight buckets, building the lead to 55-31.
“He got on a roll there for a minute,” Self said with a grin. “Good thing he got tired. He would have shot the next one from half court. But he played so well. He played so well. So much energy. We’re so proud of him.”
Selby had 12 points and Marcus Morris had 10 points and nine rebounds for Kansas.
Time after time, the Jayhawks got uncontested dunks and easy shots. Until the final minutes, Kansas State had only five offensive rebounds and got almost no second-chance points.
A disgusted Kansas State coach Frank Martin called a time out when Marcus Morris was left unguarded and all by himself under the basket for a thunderous dunk less than 2 minutes into the second half.
But less than 3 minutes later, it happened again when Brady Morningstar whipped a pass to a wide-open Marcus for another dunk that made it 47-24.
Selby, whose close friend was killed last Saturday in Baltimore, hit a 3-pointer that put the Jayhawks on top 81-49, their biggest lead.
Senior Curtis Kelly, one of Kansas State’s top players, did not appear in the game. Martin refused to say why.
“Next question,” he said when asked.