MANHATTAN — The Kansas Jayhawks are a team led by their junior class. On Monday night, in an embarrassing 84-68 loss at rival Kansas State, KU coach Bill Self got his first glimpse of how Tyshawn Taylor and the Morris twins will guide his team when everything is going horribly wrong.
And he didn’t like what he saw.
“Let’s just call it like it is: That was a beatdown,” Self said. “That was a beatdown.”
To Self, this loss felt different than KU’s first loss of the season at home to Texas on Jan. 22.
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“I’m not going to put a positive spin on this,” Self said. “We played our in-state rival in their building in a great atmosphere, and we didn’t respond.”
All five of Kansas’ starters have been critical players in the Jayhawks’ rotation for the past three seasons. But with three minutes left, Self had seen enough, pulling them from the game. He had given up on moral victories.
“The whole team played poorly,” Self said. “But our three junior starters all had rough nights without question.”
Taylor, a three-year starter playing his first campaign without Sherron Collins to lean on, had six turnovers and one assist. And when K-State guard Jacob Pullen got hot early, teleporting back to 2010, Taylor couldn’t answer the bell defensively. Collins lived for games like Monday’s and would often put the Jayhawks on his back. Taylor failed to provide even a lift.
Markieff Morris scored his first points in the second half and finished with just three. He attempted just three shots. He played 20 minutes and couldn’t grab one rebound. And in the first half, as Kansas State landed punch after punch, Morris threw a cheap shot of his own at Pullen and drew an intentional foul, which was also his second personal.
Marcus Morris is this team’s best player and emotional leader. He picked up two offensive fouls in the first nine minutes and played tentatively the rest of the way. He finished with just 13 points and three rebounds.
These are the Jayhawks leaders, and, as the saying goes, apples don’t normally fall very far from the tree. Near the end of the game, KU sophomore Elijah Johnson was called for a technical foul after an alley-oop dunk because he taunted Jordan Henriquez-Roberts.
“We’ve got guys that have been here for three and four years,” KU senior guard Tyrel Reed said. “Some of the things we’ve done aren’t the mark of a mature team. We just have to keep our composure better, just go out there and play basketball and not worry about the other things.”
It was certainly an unforgettable Valentine’s Day for these Jayhawks, who rose to No. 1 in both polls around noon Monday only to know they would be stripped of that designation 10 hours later.
Plus, there’s the realization that it will now take a meltdown by Texas, which is 10-0 in Big 12 play, for the Jayhawks (24-2, 9-2) to win even a share of what would be their seventh straight regular-season league title.
But, hey, at least now KU can simply focus on getting better — and, most importantly, tougher — before the Big 12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament offer chances at redemption.
KU has talked plenty the past few weeks as it has recovered from the Texas loss with a six-game winning streak. Marcus Morris said that his team was ready to be No. 1 and that the Jayhawks needed the challenge of taking their opponent’s best shot every night. Taylor said that he trusted his on-ball defense and that he was ready to take his defensive skills to the level Self expects. And Self vowed that the Morris twins were done losing their cool with intentional and technical fouls.
But none of those things were true on Monday night, and Kansas’ juniors did not stick around to explain themselves after the game.
Self was glad to speak for them, and he couldn’t help but use some sarcasm to mask his true emotions.
“You look at it, from a positive standpoint, we hold them to 46 points if Jacob didn’t play,” Self said. “I guess that’s a good thing.”