LAWRENCE In recent years, Kansas natives seemed to come up big in the Kansas State basketball game. The motors of Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar seemed to rev a little louder.
Something similar happened on Wednesday. The Jayhawks raced past Kansas State 67-49, and among the heroes were a former Kansas high school star and a Kansas native.
But Travis Releford, who starred at Bishop Miege, and Leawood's Conner Teahan applied a shoulder shrug.
"It's one of our bigger rivals, but I was motivated because it was the first game in the conference," Releford said.
Still, their contributions were huge in the Sunflower Showdown. While Kansas got the usual production from guys like Thomas Robinson, with 15 points and 14 rebounds, and Tyshawn Taylor with 13 points and eight turnovers, Releford and Teahan set the tone and changed the game.
Releford's 16 points and 11 rebounds were career bests and marked his first double-double. His first impression came four seconds into the game when off the jump ball he went to the floor to tie up Rodney McGruder and force another jump.
"First to the floor, that was something we emphasized," Releford said.
Kansas State wears its aggressive play like a badge of honor, and Bill Self knew that if his seven-time defending Big 12 champion was going to avoid a hole to open this season, it would have to match the Wildcats blow for blow.
"So much of this game is what you emphasize," Self said.
That's why 7-footer Jeff Withey played a grand total of two minutes in Saturday's victory over North Dakota. Self didn't like that a couple of rebounds were snatched away. Withey's response against the Wildcats? Eight points, nine rebounds and six blocks.
"Last game, I understand why coach didn't play me as much," Withey said.
Everybody for KU seemed to understand. The Jayhawks outrebounded the team that entered the game as the Big 12's top rebounding team by a stunning 50-26 total. The guards were especially active, with Elijah Johnson also doubling his previous career best with eight.
Even the careless ballhandling of Taylor couldn't prevent Kansas from building a 15-point halftime lead. Taylor had five of his eight turnovers in the first half, but for what must seem like the umpteenth time for the Wildcats, they got off to an abysmal start at Allen Fieldhouse.
"Rebounds to me are discipline and effort," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "When you're not willing to lay your body into somebody, that's not very good. We take a lot of pride in doing that. That's not what we did today and we got what we deserved."
But despite a power-outage first half, K-State answered after the break. Jamar Samuels, who had been held to one point in the first half, had 11 in a 16-4 run to open the second half.
KU took a timeout with 12:20 remaining, its lead reduced to 39-36.
Nothing specific was called in the Jayhawks' huddle, but Martin had reminded his team of the scouting report.
"Don't leave Conner Teahan open in the corner," Martin said.
That's precisely what happened. Against the Wildcats' zone, Teahan popped in his first basket to open some breathing room.
A few moments later, against man-to-man defense and on the other side of the floor, Teahan drained another triple.
Kansas was a different team. Back was the confidence, the flying dunks, and Allen Fieldhouse became unhinged.
Teahan, who entered the game a solid 41 percent on threes, missed five of his six tries in his last outing but developed the amnesia required of all long-distance specialists.
"I know when I'm open I'm supposed to let it fly," Teahan said. "I just did that and it worked out."
Those were the game's moments, and perhaps Releford and Teahan were inspired by each other.
At halftime, Teahan said he and teammates made sure to praise Releford's effort, starting with that opening tip. And Releford agreed that Teahan had changed the game's feel.
It's a good night when the praise from the coach comes with zing.
"Travis has the best old man's game of anybody I've seen for a young guy," Self said. "He does things that look awkward. And we needed Conner to step up and he did."