Ben McLemore scored 30 points on his 20th birthday, Jeff Withey dominated in the paint and No. 14 Kansas routed No. 10 Kansas State 83-62 on Monday night to snap a maddening three-game skid and forge a tie for first in the Big 12.
Withey had 17 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks, giving him 263 for his career, one shy of the conference's career mark held by Chris Mihm of Texas. Withey even had a couple of steals as he helped the Jayhawks (20-4, 8-3 Big 12) pull even with the Wildcats (19-5, 8-3) in the league race.
Two of Kansas State's losses have come against the Jayhawks.
Rodney McGruder had 20 points and Angel Rodriguez added 17 for the Wildcats. But they never seemed to be in the game, despite riding a four-game winning streak and coming into raucous Allen Fieldhouse as the higher ranked team for the first time since Feb. 20, 1982.
The Jayhawks used two big runs in the first half to take a 47-29 lead at the break, and then thwarted every rally that the veteran Wildcats tried to muster down the stretch.
The result has become predictable: Kansas won for the 11th time in the last 12 games between the in-state rivals, and for the 46th time in their last 49 meetings, prompting the student section to chant "This is our state!" once again in the closing minutes.
Many of those fans had started to fret lately.
After winning 18 straight games, the Jayhawks had lost three in a row for the first time since February 2005, tumbling from No. 2 in the AP poll all the way down to No. 14.
Most of the Jayhawks' struggles the past two weeks have centered on their offense, which had produced just 13 points in the first half of an embarrassing loss to TCU last Wednesday night.
That wasn't much of a problem against the Wildcats.
McLemore, Kansas' star freshman, was 9 of 13 from the field and 6 of 10 from 3. Kevin Young had 13 points, Travis Releford added 10, and Naadir Tharpe had seven points with eight assists and only one turnover in the quintessential get-right kind of game.
The crowd was juiced from the opening tip — and so were the Jayhawks.
Young, their all-energy forward, started their big first-half run with a dunk off a nifty feed from Tharpe, one of six assists he had in the first half. Withey was the recipient of Young's feed on the next trip, and McLemore's 3-pointer from the wing forced the Wildcats to call time out.
It didn't do much to ebb the tide.
Tharpe hit a fade-away jumper from the wing, Withey scored again in the paint and McLemore added another 3 — this time from the corner — to cap a 14-3 run that gave Kansas a 28-13 lead.
When the Wildcats tried to answer, the Jayhawks unleashed another 12-3 charge with Tharpe pouring in another 3-pointer and McLemore adding four more points. By the time it was finished, the Jayhawks had built a 40-19 lead with 3:26 remaining in the first half.
It was the biggest deficit the Wildcats had faced all season.
Kansas ended up shooting 58.6 percent from the field, and 5 of 10 from beyond the arc, in building a 47-29 halftime lead. It was the most points the offensively troubled Jayhawks had scored in a half since putting up 53 in the first half against American on Dec. 29.
Their cold shooting returned early in the second half, and Rodriguez's hot outside shooting — he hit consecutive 3-pointers — helped to ignite a last-gasp charge.
Jordan Henriquez's basket and a foul shot by Rodriguez with 14:04 left made it 58-43.
Withey put an end to any thought of a comeback.
The reigning Big 12 defensive player of the year swatted away a shot by McGruder and, moments later, threw down a massive dunk over Henriquez — a fellow 7-footer — before finishing off the three-point play. Withey then rejected McGruder at the other end, and this time Travis Releford had the putback that restored the Jayhawks' 20-point lead at 63-43 with 11:59 to go.
The Jayhawks put the game on cruise control down the stretch, giving new Kansas State coach Bruce Weber — who once followed Kansas coach Bill Self as the man in charge at Illinois — his third loss in three tries against the eight-time defending Big 12 champions.
It was Kansas State's sixth straight loss in Lawrence and the 17th in 18 games.