LAWRENCE — If the Kansas Jayhawks were going to walk away with yet another Big 12 regular-season title, proud KU alum and Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon was going to make sure they earned it on Wednesday night in Allen Fieldhouse.
Turgeon's Aggies brought the same kind of game to Allen Fieldhouse that the Texas Longhorns used Jan. 22 to end the Jayhawks' home-court winning streak — a defeat that proved KU was susceptible to letting down its defenses if a team came into the old barn and hit it in the mouth. Texas A&M frustrated the Jayhawks, who have not experienced many grind-it-out games this season, for 30 minutes, and the Aggies trailed by just two with 10 more to play.
Could Kansas regain its composure this time? A Marcus Morris tip of a Tyrel Reed missed free throw said yes. Reed swishing a three-pointer just seconds later said yes. Brady Morningstar knocking down another three drove the point home, and the Jayhawks were finally off and running to a 13-2 spurt and a 64-51 victory over the Aggies.
"We buckled down at the end and started guarding when we really needed to get stops," Morris said. "I think we wanted it a little bit more down the stretch."
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After Morningstar's three put No. 2 KU up 52-43, he and Reed both motioned to the crowd as they returned to the defensive end of the floor. It was Senior Night, less than seven minutes were left in their fieldhouse careers, and Kansas' steady veterans weren't going to let the crowd forget it.
Soon, it was clear the Jayhawks were going to add the numbers "2011" to their banner commemorating conference championships — their seventh in a row. KU (28-2, 13-2 Big 12) clinched at least a share Wednesday and can win the title outright with either a win Saturday at Missouri or a Texas loss at Baylor.
"We don't like sharing championships," Morningstar said.
The Jayhawks don't like sharing at all. They dislike it so much that Morris was told to take off his Big 12 champions T-shirt before he left the locker room for media interviews.
"Things like that instill in my mind that we have to keep working," Morris said. "It's not over yet."
On Wednesday, the Jayhawks showed that they can win a hard-nosed battle with an NCAA Tournament-caliber team. Marcus and Markieff Morris each had 13 points, Reed had 12, and, hey, maybe it won't be the end of the world if KU runs into a buzz saw like A&M in the postseason.
"That's going to help us down the road," Reed said. "Those are tournament-type games. Shots aren't falling, you can't really get in a rhythm."
On the surface, this seemed an easy game to figure out. The Jayhawks, playing for the chance to hang a banner, would ride the emotion of senior night to a rousing victory in a revved-up Allen. Kansas hadn't lost its home finale since 1983 — it was no coincidence that KU went 13-16 that year — and it just didn't seem possible that the Jayhawks could send seniors Reed, Morningstar and Mario Little out on a sour note.
And, sure enough, Reed swished the first shot of the game, a three-pointer, and the Jayhawks were off. But then they weren't. Kansas led 6-4 at the 10:49 mark and went nearly eight minutes without a field goal.
KU coach Bill Self knew his team needed a kick-start, so he pulled Tyshawn Taylor off the bench for his first action since Feb. 19. To say that Taylor, who served a two-game suspension for violating team rules, has gotten some tough love from Self the past week would be an understatement. As recently as Monday, Self said that sophomore guard Elijah Johnson would be his starting point guard if the NCAA Tournament were to start this week.
Johnson may have played before Taylor on Wednesday, but it wasn't long before Taylor was busy trying to win back his role as KU's floor leader. Taylor sparked the Jayhawks in the first half with seven points and two assists, and Kansas led 29-24 at halftime.
Taylor, who finished with nine points and three assists, started the second half but eventually gave way to Johnson. There is sure to be a healthy competition at point guard the rest of the season.