The Kansas Jayhawks made an emphatic statement on Tuesday against the West Virginia Mountaineers in a matchup of AP Top 10 teams, defeating their Big 12 rivals by a score of 75-65 at Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas' official basketball Twitter account reacted immediately afterwards, hinting at how big the win was for the Jayhawks' bid for a 12th straight conference title:
Kansas Basketball @KUHoops
One step closer to 12-straight #kubball https://t.co/8epmOQWfdk2016-2-10 02:05:36
Both teams entered averaging over 80 points per contest on the season, and an excellent coaching duel between Kansas' Bill Self and visiting counterpart Bob Huggins promised to make this game a treat.
But the sixth-ranked Jayhawks were in command at the beginning. They built a 36-29 halftime lead and never trailed in the opening 20 minutes—or the entire evening. Self's squad appeared determined to avenge a 74-63 defeat at West Virginia on January 12, which knocked Kansas out of the No. 1 spot.
Landen Lucas pulled down seven of his 16 rebounds in the first half and helped the Jayhawks set the tone early with a thunderous slam dunk, courtesy of ESPN College BBall:
ESPN College BBall @ESPNCBB
Welcome to Allen Fieldhouse! https://t.co/ej4JqyiboA2016-2-10 00:19:27
The jam got the crowd and the team as a whole into the game, and the Mountaineers' pesky, pressing tactics and aggressive brand of basketball were offset by an energized opponent and its rowdy crowd.
Matt Tait of KUSports.com noted how much better Lucas was performing compared to his last outing against West Virginia:
Matt Tait @mctait
Lucas got off to a good start against these guys in Morgantown but had to sit with fouls. He's outplaying WVU bigs so far #KUbball2016-2-10 00:38:17
The Jayhawks executed at a high level, shooting 56.1 percent for the game. They made the proper adjustments to what hampered them in the prior loss. Kansas' defense was also extremely impressive in not allowing the visitors to get into any rhythm.
Known more for his finesse and scoring ability than anything else, senior Perry Ellis stepped up to deny Devin Williams at the rim, courtesy of Big 12 Conference:
Big 12 Conference @Big12Conference
🚫🚫🚫 Perry Ellis with the HUGE block @KUHoops up by seven at the break. https://t.co/o3UaN1ZMTL2016-2-10 00:49:58
Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports appreciated Ellis' efforts:
Sam Vecenie @Sam_Vecenie
I think Perry Ellis might have just ended Devin Williams’ NBA hopes. Damn. That was a sweet block.2016-2-10 00:44:53
Ellis poured in a game-high 21 points, including a dagger three-pointer with three minutes and 31 seconds remaining to make the score 70-58.
The victors' backcourt rotation performed well with Frank Mason III (14), Wayne Selden Jr. (11) and Devonte' Graham (10) all scoring in double figures. Brannen Greene also made a big difference off the bench.
Yanked by Self after just one minute of action in the team's prior contest against TCU, Greene poured in 10 points on Tuesday. The junior certainly acquitted himself well and may be back in Self's good graces, which could help Kansas immensely in the impending Big Dance.
Tom Keegan of the Lawrence Journal-World hinted at that notion in his analysis of Greene's play:
Tom Keegan @TomKeeganLJW
Brannen Greene's lc 3 shows how he can change #KUbball for the better if he never tries to out-stubborn his (undefeated in that area) coach.2016-2-10 00:31:25
Of course, a Huggins-coached team wasn't going down without a fight despite the perpetual deficit. It's a testament to how well Kansas banded together that it never surrendered its seven-point advantage at the intermission.
West Virginia has feasted on hustle and flustering the opposition all season by pressuring for steals and offensive rebounding. The hosts struggled with the press at times in the second half, as the Kansas City Star's Blair Kerkhoff astutely observed:
Blair Kerkhoff @BlairKerkhoff
Kansas with 6 first half turnovers, 8 in the first 12 1/2 minutes of second half, playing into WVU's strength.2016-2-10 01:37:31
Largely thanks to Lucas—who also had nine points and four blocks—Kansas crashed the glass well enough to prevent second-chance opportunities and held on. It was aided by exceptional shooting and the Mountaineers' late foul trouble as well.
There is now a three-way tie at the top of the Big 12 between West Virginia, Kansas and Oklahoma.
All three squads will figure heavily into the March Madness picture and are destined for top seeds barring some unforeseen calamity.
After taking care of business in a big way at home, Kansas hits the road for Norman and will take on the Sooners on Saturday in a marquee showdown. The Jayhawks won a triple-overtime thriller in the last meeting on January 4.
Tuesday's loss will be tough to swallow for the Mountaineers, but they have the gritty style to dig deep and bounce back against even the most formidable foes. They will be in action again on Saturday and are going to be big favorites at home versus Big 12 cellar-dweller TCU.
Huggins gave credit to Ellis, who led Kansas' offensive charge. "[Ellis] is a great player. I don't know if his [number] will get retired. I don't know if there's any room...he deserves to be up there," he said, per the University Daily Kansan's Scott Chasen.
But the Mountaineers head coach also felt his own squad missed some opportunities to make the game more competitive. "You have to give us credit for screwing the game up," Huggins said, per Rivals.com's JayhawkSlant.
Following his excellent performance, Lucas spoke about how significant the win was, per Tait:
Matt Tait @mctait
Lucas: We never worried about the B12 race b/c we never felt we were too far out of it. But tonight was big & we handled business. #KUbball2016-2-10 02:22:55
Self praised the tremendous support the Jayhawks received. "Our guys are so spoiled getting to play in this atmosphere night in and night out," he said, per Kansas Basketball.
Self also expressed pride about how his team responded on Tuesday to the prior encounter with West Virginia.
"We got punked in Morgantown. Tonight, I thought we were much more competitive. We made many, many more competitive plays," Self said, per the University Daily Kansan's Evan Riggs.