LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP)—As head-turning as the numbers are, the 30 points and 21 rebounds Thomas Robinson posted Saturday were not what excited Kansas coach Bill Self the most.
“He played the most unselfishly he’s ever played,” Self said after Robinson led the 17th-ranked Jayhawks past North Dakota 84-58. “He was poised. I just thought he played great.”
Statistically speaking, the muscular 6-foot-10 junior had Kansas’ finest game in more than half a century. Quick research by the athletic department indicated no one in the storied program had registered 30 points and 20 rebounds in a game since Wayne Hightower had 36 and 21 against Missouri on Feb. 13, 1961. It’s believed to be the ninth time a Jayhawk has turned the trick. Robinson’s monster game also included four assists, two steals and a block.
“He should have had six or seven assists if we could make a shot,” Self said.
The Fighting Sioux, who may have played their final game with that nickname, tried both single- and double-teams against him.
“He is so patient down there,” North Dakota coach Brian Jones said. “He lets the game come to him.”
His first two years, fighting for playing time behind twins Marcus and Markieff Morris, patience and smart play were not what characterized Robinson’s game.
But now he admits he’s made so much improvement, “I can’t even put it in words.”
“I was out of control. I was just a raw athlete. Now I know I’m a better basketball player. I just know more about the game,” he said.
North Dakota (5-8) simply had no answer for the muscular junior. With 12 points and 10 rebounds, he socked away his Big 12-leading ninth double-double by halftime as the Jayhawks (10-3) won their 55th straight nonconference home game.
An 11-4 run ending the first half gave the Jayhawks a 37-21 halftime lead. Robinson got the second half started by stealing a pass and feeding Travis Releford on a fast break three-point play. Robinson capped a 14-6 run with a hook shot and a one-handed dunk off a fastbreak pass from Releford for a 51-30 lead.
Troy Huff missed his first four shots but wound up with 16 points for the Fighting Sioux, who fell to 0-7 away from home and were completely outclassed by the bigger, quicker seven-time defending Big 12 champs. Aaron Anderson had 11 points for the defending Great West Conference champions.
Tyshawn Taylor had 18 points and Releford added 14 for the Jayhawks, who held a 42-29 rebounding edge and had 21 assists.
Robinson was 10 of 14 from the field and 9 of 12 from the free throw line. In one play in the first half, he surprised the beleaguered North Dakota defense by hitting a long 3-pointer. The 30 points surpassed the 26 he scored against Long Beach State and the 21 rebounds erased the personal best of 18 he had against Davidson earlier this season.
Teammates say Robinson was the hardest worker on the team over the summer.
“He was a beast today and he’s been playing like a beast for us,” Taylor said. “I hope he can get some more of these 30-20s. He did a really great job of letting the game come to him and not trying to force it. I think that just shows how much he’s improved as a player and having a better understanding of the game.”
Robinson said he worked every day with one goal: “To be the best player in the country.”
Weighing on North Dakota’s mind was the thought this could be their last athletc contest as the Fighting Sioux. The NCAA has ordered the school to drop what’s considered a politically incorrect identification. But some fans have mounted a fight and the matter may not yet be resolved.
“I talked to them about it before we went out because it’s the last day of the year, the last day of our logo scenario. So it was special to us,” Jones said. “There has been a lot of tradition behind that.”