OMAHA, Neb. -- The Kansas basketball team spent Friday afternoon at the Embassy Suites hotel, watching Missouri lose to Norfolk State.
Hours later, moments before they trotted out of the locker room to play Detroit, the Jayhawks saw the final moments of Duke’s defeat against Lehigh.
It’d been 11 years since a No. 2 seed lost in the NCAA tournament. Now it had happened twice in one day.
Could Kansas make it No. 3?
“It opened our eyes a little bit,” point guard Tyshawn Taylor said. “It made us understand that it can happen.”
Even before Friday, Kansas knew the pain of March upsets all too well. Since 2005 it has lost to mid-majors Bucknell, Bradley and Northern Iowa in the first or second round of the NCAA tournament.
On Friday the Jayhawks made sure it didn’t happen again.
Thomas Robinson scored 16 points and snared 13 rebounds to boost Kansas -- the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region -- to a 65-50 victory over No. 15 Detroit at the CenturyLink Center. Elijah Johnson added 15 points for the Jayhawks, who advanced to play No. 10 seed Purdue on Sunday for a chance to go to the Sweet 16.
“It’s great for the tournament when lower seeds win,” center Jeff Withey said. “But we were watching [the upsets] today, and we didn’t want to be the one to lose.”
Kansas closed the first half on a 15-3 march and led 34-24 at intermission. When the Jayhawks opened the second half on a 10-2 run, the game was basically over.
Still, a side story developed in an otherwise mundane game when Taylor, a fourth-year starter and the team’s leading scorer in Big 12 play, left the court with cramps with about 16 minutes remaining. He was taken to the locker room and didn’t return.
“The [cramps] started in my calf and kept coming up to my hammy, my feet, my back, all over,” said Taylor, who scored 10 points. “I’ve been taking stuff for a cold and it dehydrates you.
“I’ve been drinking a lot of Gatorade. I guess I’ve got to drink a lot more -- and some pickle juice. This happened to me the first game in Maui. I was fine the next two games.”
In an odd way, Taylor’s absence could’ve been good for the Jayhawks, because it forced players such as Johnson and reserve guard Naadir Tharpe into more pressure-packed roles. Tharpe’s 13 minutes were the most he’s played since Dec. 29.
“I kept thinking about [Taylor] sitting in the locker room,” Johnson said. “I was like, ‘I know he’s back there watching. I want to keep him calm. I want to keep my senior guard calm.’
“Ty has been carrying us for a long time. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves. People think, ‘He should be doing well. He’s been here for four years.’ But [he’s] playing with four people that haven’t done it. When everything goes bad, who do they point to? Tyshawn Taylor, whether he played good or not. I’m there to back him up whenever. Whatever he needs me to do, I’ll do it.”
The Jayhawks will need another banner effort from Johnson -- and plenty of others -- if they hope to beat Purdue. The Boilermakers may not be as strong as they’ve been the past few seasons, but Matt Painter is still regarded as one of the top defensive coaches in the country. There’s no doubt he’ll have his team ready.
Purdue upended No. 7 seed Saint Mary’s 72-69 earlier Friday.
“We can’t take anybody lightly, from today until whenever,” Taylor said. “Once you get into the tournament, those seeds go away. It really doesn’t matter. A No. 2 can beat a No. 15. It might mean they’re the better team, it might not. But all it takes is for them to be better that day.
“We’ve got to treat everyone like they’re Kentucky or a North Carolina.”