LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Shortly before the final horn sounded in Kansas’ slaughtering of Kansas State on Wednesday, a fan behind the basket at Allen Fieldhouse held up a sign directed toward Wildcats coach Frank Martin.
“Yo, Frank!” it read. “You look mad, bro.”
“Sick” might have been a better word.
Year after year during Martin’s tenure, Kansas State has made the 90-mile drive from Manhattan to Lawrence, taken its beating and gone back home.
But this season was supposed to be different.
With only one surefire NBA draft pick and a three-loss résumé that includes a setback to Davidson, Kansas looked as vulnerable as it has been in Bill Self's tenure. The Jayhawks were the third- or fourth-best team in the Big 12, experts said. An eighth straight conference title seemed out of the question.
If ever there was a season Kansas State could win in Lawrence, this was it.
“It was a complete mismatch,” Martin said after Kansas stomped his team 67-49, and he couldn’t have put it more mildly.
Travis Releford and Thomas Robinson each recorded a double-double, and Jeff Withey blocked six shots to lead the Jayhawks, who dominated their in-state rival in the same fashion as more talented KU teams of the past.
Yes, even in a season in which they’re supposed to be down, the Jayhawks are still pretty darned good.
“We don’t have the depth that we’ve had in the past,” Releford said, “but that’s been good on our end, because teams are looking at us as underdogs. We don’t have anything to lose.”
That was certainly the mentality with which Kansas played Wednesday, when the most telling stats were the ones that reflected intensity and effort.
Kansas outrebounded the Wildcats 48-24, while holding them to 31.6 percent shooting. Twenty minutes after the game, Martin was still dumbfounded by what had occurred.
“I have never in 27 years -- including coaching 13-year-olds -- been a part of a game where our team got its tail whipped in the physical part of the game the way we did today,” Martin said.
“I told the media folks that were at our place yesterday that, 10 minutes into the game, the game would probably be over. And that’s what happened.”
Kansas now has won 83 of its past 84 home games, and its past six wins against K-State at Allen Fieldhouse have come by an average of 18 points.
And it’s not as if Martin has brought a bunch of bad teams to Lawrence. Michael Beasley and Bill Walker beat Kansas in Manhattan in 2008 -- the same year the Jayhawks won the NCAA title. But they couldn’t compete in Allen Fieldhouse. The same scenario occurred last season with All-American guard Jacob Pullen.
“Every team that comes here deals with it,” Martin said. “It’s not just us. I watch tape, and everyone gets down 12-2 here. It’s unbelievable.
“I almost called timeout when we were up 1-0. I was so excited.”
Instead, Kansas State fell behind 23-5 and trailed 35-20 at intermission. The Wildcats pulled within three points, 39-36, midway through the second, but Kansas shooting guard Conner Teahan swished 3-pointers on two consecutive possessions and Kansas State never threatened again.
Pleased as he was with the victory, Self said fans should be careful not to overreact.
“This is one out of 18,” Self said, referring to the Jayhawks’ upcoming Big 12 slate. “This is nothing to get giddy about. All we did was hold serve.”
Still, anyone who doubted the Jayhawks and their chances of winning an eighth straight league title certainly had to change their opinion after this game.
Releford (16 points, 11 rebounds) and Withey (eight points, nine rebounds, six blocks) played the best games of their careers. And the physical manner with which Kansas played answered any questions about its toughness.
Baylor might have more talent, and Missouri might be more poised and crisp on offense. But Kansas boasts four things those schools don’t: the nation’s top home-court advantage, a national player of the year candidate in Robinson, a future Hall of Fame coach in Self and an uncanny ability to win on the road.
Kansas is 33-7 in Big 12 road games over the past five seasons.
“That’s where conference titles are won,” Self said, adding that a victory at Oklahoma on Saturday would excite him even more than the Kansas State win.
There is plenty of work to do between now and then, of course. The Jayhawks have shot better than 50 percent just once in their past five games, and they still need increased production from their bench. The biggest issue has been turnovers. Kansas committed 20 of them Wednesday, including eight by point guard Tyshawn Taylor, who now is averaging four per game.
“[Taylor] makes plays you can’t coach,” Self said. “And then he makes plays where it looks like he’s never been coached.”
Taylor said he’s confident his turnover issues will soon become a thing of the past.
“All I’ve been thinking about since the game ended is the eight turnovers,” Taylor said. “I’ll play better Saturday. We just have to keep taking care of business. We have to keep it up.”