LAS VEGAS — Kansas guard Elijah Johnson lifted off for a dunk that was sure to bring Orleans Arena to life. The Jayhawks were already embarrassing Ohio, on their way to a 98-41 beatdown of the Bobcats, and anything Johnson did above the rim at the end of the first half would have just been piling on. Ohio made sure that didn’t happen.
Ohio’s Ricardo Johnson pulled down Elijah Johnson from behind, sending him tumbling hard to the floor. Elijah had been denied a chance to throw down one of his slams that he perfected right down the road at Las Vegas’ Cheyenne High, but there would be justice. Game officials ejected Ricardo Johnson, who ran out of the arena to boos from thousands of KU fans.
It could have ended there. After the game, KU coach Bill Self indicated that he would have preferred it that way. But Self also has said that he is looking for somebody on his roster to replace the leadership of Sherron Collins, and it may be that Self can’t have it both ways. When confronted with a fight-or-flight scenario, the Jayhawks did exactly what Collins would have wanted them to do. They went for the throat.
“Everytime something like that happens, it makes us think about Sherron,” Johnson said. “He used to get us so fired up when someone would do something like that.”
Enter Marcus Morris. He is unquestionably the Jayhawks’ best player, which makes him a natural fit for the moment that he was presented with on Friday night. Morris brought his teammates together.
“Don’t let your man score on you,” Morris told them.
The Jayhawks (5-0) did not let up. Ohio shot 23 percent in the first half and 24 percent in the second half. The Bobcats missed all 18 of their three-pointers, which had to have something to do with Kansas’ pressure defense. Of course, it takes a little something extra to beat a helpless opponent by 57 points.
“I felt like it was a cheap foul,” Morris said. “I just felt like after that, it became personal.”
The game deteriorated as it went on. The Jayhawks jawed at the Bobcats often, and Ohio continued to punish KU with hard fouls. Elijah Johnson took another hit when he sped into a screen and left the game holding his back. Travis Releford was scratched on his left ear going for a layup. Meanwhile, the Jayhawks kept pouring it on. Morris had 26 on 11-of-14 shooting, and he didn’t hesitate to let Ohio know all about it.
The perception was that the game was a physical affair. Self wanted nothing of it.
“That wasn’t a physical game,” Self said. “A physical game is when big guys are laying on each other and hitting each other. There were a couple of hard fouls. I think our guys acted chippy, which is definitely a sign of immaturity. But hopefully we can grow up and not let things like that bother us.”
It would have bothered Collins, one of Self’s all-time favorites.
“When things get like that, you come together closer as a team,” Brady Morningstar said.
KU became closer, and, as planned, the game was never close. Travis Releford began the separation by nailing his first three three-point attempts on the way to a 13-point effort. And Johnson would finish with eight points, including an acrobatic one-handed alley-oop slam in the second half.
The Jayhawks made a bad team look worse once again. Tonight’s game against Arizona, the marquee match-up of this iBN Sports Las Vegas Invitational, will be KU’s first real test of the season. Self doesn’t expect his team to take much into it from Friday’s showing.
“That was the weakest performance for a big blowout win that I’ve seen,” Self said. “They just missed shots.”
For Self’s players, Arizona already feels personal.
“Arizona beat us our freshman year,” Morris said. “This is kind of a statement game, a payback game.”