When trying to pinpoint the factor most responsible for their Wednesday victory over Kansas State, the Kansas Jayhawks have a lot to consider.
The rebounding edge, for example. Kansas State entered the game as the second-best rebounding team in the Big 12, and the Jayhawks absolutely dominated the glass - maintaining a 50-26 edge.
"In 27 years, including coaching 13 year olds, I've never 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," said Wildcats coach Frank Martin afterward. "It was a complete mismatch."
There were several standout individual performances, too. Travis Releford had a career night, going for a game-high 16 points and 11 rebounds.
"Travis set the tone the first half," said Kansas head coach Bill Self. "He got on the floor twice. That was our whole big deal - 'First one on the floor.' That was our whole deal. He got on the floor a couple of times and I thought he did a great job defending Rodney (McGruder) in the first half especially and stealing us some extra possessions."
Thomas Robinson was his usual dominant self, recording yet another double-double - his 10th of the season - with 15 points and 14 rebounds, despite battling foul trouble. Jeff Withey was a major defensive presence in the lane, particularly in the second half, with eight points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots. And though Elijah Johnson scored just three points, he grabbed eight boards and dished out five assists without a single turnover.
And those factors were all big. They're important. But the hinge upon which the game swung was Conner Teahan. More specifically a pair of three-pointers the senior sharpshooter splashed in the second half, with Robinson on the bench and the Wildcats surging, to help Kansas maintain the lead.
With 12:27 left in the game, Kansas State forward Jamar Samuels hit a big three-pointer off an assist from guard Will Spradling to cut the lead to 36-39, capping a short 10-2 run by the Wildcats. After a timeout by Self, the Kansas State defense lost Teahan in the corner - a point of emphasis on Martin's scouting report - and the Kansas City native drilled it.
Back came Kansas State, as McGruder canned a two-point jumper off another assist from Spradling. But there was Teahan again, with 10:50 left, ripping the cords on another one after an assist by Johnson.
The lead was back to seven, and back came Robinson into the action. The Allen Fieldhouse crowd was rocking, and the Kansas offense exploded. Jeff Withey got loose for a dunk after another nifty assist from Johnson. Spradling hit a three to cut the lead back to six, 41-47, but the Jayhawks scored the next five baskets - a three from Releford, two dunks from Robinson, a fast-break slam for Taylor an a layup from Withey - to put the game to bed.
Those six points from Teahan were, almost questionably, the six most important points of the night, and helped a close game become a blowout victory over a ranked opponent in the Big 12 season opener.
"It's deflating," Martin said. "That's the problem with the first five, six, minutes of the game here. I think every team that comes in here deals with it. It's not just us. I watch tape, I see everybody is down 12-2 to start the game here. It's unbelievable. But now you take so much effort and energy to get yourself back to where you can manage the game, and then you make a mistake and they make you pay. That deflates your team."
Indeed, the Jayhawks raced out to a 23-5 lead in the first half, dominating the glass, scrapping for loose balls and utilizing crisp passing to find open shots. On the defensive end, they held Kansas State to just 27.6-percent from the floor for the half, and 31.6-percent for the game.
Afterward, Self was pleased with the victory but not willing to put too much stock into it - not with the gauntlet that is the 18-game Big 12 schedule only just underway.
Next up? A trip to Norman, Okla. on Saturday, for a showdown with the Sooners.
"They are a good team," Self said, of the Wildcats. "But this is one out of 18. This is nothing to get giddy over. It would be not a good thing if we didn't win in our own building, but road wins are precious and there's not going to be a lot of teams get a lot of them. All we did tonight was hold serve. We did what we had to do."