Little Steals the Show

Turgeon and Self (AP Photo / Charlie Riedel)

The KU-Texas A&M game Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse was billed as former Jayhawk guard Mark Turgeon's homecoming. But Kansas junior forward Mario Little stole the show with a career-high 15 points in leading the Jayhawks to a 73-53 victory over Turgeon's Aggies.

Mario Little, who played his sixth game this season after battling back from a leg injury and a broken bone in his left hand, matched his season high in the first half with 11 points, including seven straight to give KU its biggest lead (31-10) of the half at the 7:25 mark.

Last year's Junior College Player of the Year scored on a variety of shots throughout the game, including a pull-up 12-foot jump shot, a three-pointer, a six-foot shot off a dribble drive and pump fake, a fadeaway baseline jumper, and a layup off a nifty spin move on the left baseline.

Little dedicated the game to his grandmother, Hazel, who has been in a Chicago hospital since Jan. 8 with internal bleeding. Sunday was her birthday. Little said her grandma is doing fine after surgery and is waiting to be cleared.

"It kind of made me want to play harder," Little said. "I tried to come out and be aggressive like coach (Bill Self) said. I had a lot of stuff (on) my mind (with his grandma). I knew I had to play hard so I won't let anybody down."

Little certainly didn't let his family or his teammates down Monday night. He was perfect from the field in six attempts, while also grabbing four rebounds in 14 minutes. At 6-5, Little was quite efficient facing up on the perimeter as the four man.

"All along we said he's a tough matchup for a four-man offensively because he can step away from the basket," Self said. "He's one of the few guys in college basketball — every team may have one, but probably doesn't have more than one — with a good in-between game.

"He's really good in the 15-foot range. Most guys are great behind the arc or take it all the way to the basket. He has that old school mid-range game. He shot the ball well. He needed to have something good happen. He was active and effective."

So was Kansas. The Jayhawks (14-4, 3-0 in Big 12) burst out on an 18-4 start and led 40-23 at halftime. Let by Little's 11 points and Sherron Collins' 10, KU shot a blistering 57.1 percent from the field in the first half while holding the Aggies to just 38.9 percent. Kansas also scored 17 points off A&M's 13 turnovers.

KU continued to play well defensively after halftime; the Aggies shot 29 percent in the second half. KU, though, cooled down to 44.4 percent shooting the last 20 minutes.

After the Aggies cut KU's lead to 42-27, KU went on a 14-3 run, including two straight threes from freshman forward Marcus Morris. The Jayhawks' biggest lead of the game was 27 points (68-41) with 5:10 remaining.

Self said KU was "probably about as complete as we've been on both ends."

"I thought we played great early," he said. "We've done that at home lately. That was as well as we could play the first 10 minutes. (We) scored easy and made shots and really guarded. They helped us some because they turned it over a lot the first half.

"The second half was kind of stale. But I thought we had total control from start to finish. I was very pleased. ... I thought we were great defensively for the majority of the game."

The Jayhawks knew the Aggies would be motivated with Turgeon's homecoming in the Phog. And Kansas also realized A&M was the last team to defeat KU in Allen Fieldhouse, 69-66, on Feb. 3, 2007. With KU's win on Monday, the Jayhawks have now won 35 straight games in Allen Fieldhouse, the second-longest active streak in the country.

"We just tried to give them the first hit, because we knew they were gong to come out and hit us," said sophomore center Cole Aldrich. "We tried to come out really strong and I think we did a good job of that. I think we played really good defense."

Collins and Aldrich led KU with 16 points each. Collins added seven assists and three steals, while Aldrich had eight rebounds and two blocks. Little and Morris (10) were the other Jayhawks in double figures.

Sophomore guard Brady Morningstar also gave KU a huge lift with six rebounds, four assists and two steals. He held Aggies' leading scorer Josh Carter to just seven points on 2 of 6 shooting.

"I thought (Little) and Brady were probably our two best performers," Self said.

Forward Bryan Davis and guard B.J. Holmes led Texas A&M with just eight points each.

Turgeon was comforted seeing old friends and the warm pregame  ovation, but disappointed in his team's play.

"It wasn't one of our better nights, but I think KU had a lot to do with it," he said.

KU next heads to Iowa State on Saturday for a 1 p.m. matchup on ESPN.

Self hopes the Jayhawks can carry over their fast starts in Allen Fieldhouse away from home.

"Any team would be hard to beat at home when you get off to a start like (we had tonight)," Self said. "We need to go do that on the road now."

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