KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The good news for Elijah Johnson is Kansas might play Texas A&M again next season even though the Aggies are leaving the Big 12.
The teams are part of the CBE Classic in November on the same Sprint Center court where the Jayhawks pounded A&M 83-66 in Thursday’s quarterfinal round.
Johnson poured in 26 points, a career best. Three weeks ago in College Station, he had a 21-point game. The junior guard has three 20-point games in his career.
He started feeling it Thursday, oddly enough, on shots that didn’t count. Twice in the early going, a whistle blew stopping play just before Johnson let it fly. Both times the shots went down, and he told backcourt mate Tyshawn Taylor that he was feeling it.
“He came to me when he could,” Johnson said.
Like when the Jayhawks trailed early. The Aggies led 21-17 with 8 minutes, 54 seconds left in the half. KU chipped three off the deficit, and then twice within a minute, the ball zipped around to an open Johnson. He buried it both times.
Suddenly a deficit was a five-point lead, and the run would grow to 13-0. Johnson hit two more free throws, giving him eight during the stretch.
The game had special meaning to Johnson for another reason. Johnson’s uncle, William Couisnard of Gary, Ind., died last week, and Johnson missed practice Monday to be with his family. Johnson described his uncle as a “glue guy, a dear uncle, someone I stayed with for a while. He’s taken care of me.”
Yet, when Johnson was away, he thought about being back in Lawrence.
“While I was here, I couldn’t wait to get home and see my family,” Johnson said. “Once I got home to my family, I couldn’t wait to get back and see these dudes. I could not wait.
“There was a point when I wished I could miss practice, now it was killing me to miss it.”
Johnson made five of seven threes on Thursday and all five free-throw attempts. He had ample help from Thomas Robinson, who finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds; Taylor, who had 16; and Jeff Withey, who added 11 points and four blocks.
Nobody, it seemed, could miss. KU shot 61.4 percent from the floor and made 10 of its 15 three-pointers. The Aggies packed their defense to challenge Robinson and Withey, and the Jayhawks made them pay from deep.
Even Robinson stepped outside to hit two threes. He had made only four in his career, all this season, entering the game.
“When Robinson hits two threes, they’re a very difficult team to guard,” A&M Coach Billy Kennedy said.
The Aggies looked spent. Their opening round victory over Oklahoma ended about 18 hours before their quarterfinal game tipped off.
Legs weren’t in shots, and starters labored in foul trouble. David Loubeau played only five minutes in the first half, and center Ray Turner finished the half with three fouls.
“Loubeau getting two fouls changes the whole complexion of the game,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Texas A&M finished its final season in the Big 12 — they’re off to the Southeastern Conference — with a disappointing 14-18 record.
Baylor is looking for a different game against KU this time. Kansas beat the Bears by 18 in Lawrence and by 14 in Waco, Texas. Those were one-third of Baylor’s losses this season.
So, who has the edge? All Kansas has known is beating Baylor, but there’s something to the notion that it’s difficult to beat a team three times in one season.
“It’s true,” Self said. “I think it’s hardest to beat a team the third time. But sometimes the psychological advantage goes to the team that you’ve beaten.”
The Bears topped Kansas State 82-74 on Thursday as Perry Jones III scored a career best 31.
“I anticipate getting their best shot,” Self said. “They’re so talented it’s a joke.”