By DAVE SKRETTA AP Basketball Writer
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Kevin McCullar Jr. heard the boos and catcalls from the Missouri student section hours before tipoff, when Kansas first emerged from the tunnel for pregame warmups. The noise rose to an ear-splitting roar as the bitter rivals began their first showdown in Columbia in more than a decade.
All that McCullar heard by the end was the haunting refrain of “Rock Chalk Jayhawk.”
McCullar finished with 21 points, Jalen Wilson had 24 points and 10 rebounds, and the sixth-ranked Jayhawks pounded their old Big 12 foe 95-67 on Saturday night in just their second meeting since the Tigers bolted for the SEC.
“The atmosphere was electric tonight,” McCullar said. “We just tried to embrace the environment.”
KJ Adams Jr. also had a career-high 19 points and Gradey Dick scored 16 for the Jayhawks (9-1), who romped past the Tigers last year in Lawrence but were making their first visit to Columbia since Feb. 4, 2012, the year Missouri switched conferences.
The fevered pitch for the latest showdown of century-old rivals evaporated in the opening minutes, though, when Kansas raced to a 30-16 lead. It swelled to 26 points early in the second half before the Jayhawks cruised to the finish.
“In all honesty, you want to be in environments where people care,” Kansas coach Bill Self said, “and it was obviously a caring environment today. The crowd was great. And I thought our guys really did a good job of not letting them go on runs that could have really gotten the crowd more into the game.”
D’Moi Hodge and Nick Honor scored 15 apiece to lead the Tigers (9-1), who had been one of 10 remaining unbeatens in Division I men’s basketball at the start of the day. Noah Carter finished with 12 points and DeAndre Gholston had 11.
“There’s a reason why Kansas is top 10 in the country. There’s a reason why Bill Self is a Hall of Fame coach,” Tigers counterpart Dennis Gates said. “I thought we showed and displayed different things throughout the game where we almost had runs going, but something — a missed free throw or a missed 3 — kind of took the wind out of our sails.”
There are rivalries in college basketball and then there is Kansas-Missouri, marked by a pervasive hatred predating James Naismith and his peach baskets to actual guerrilla warfare along their border in the years leading up to the Civil War.
One fan walking through the concourse of Mizzou Arena on Saturday even wore a hat that read “Remember Quantrill” — as in the Confederate sympathizer William Quantrill, who led a massacre in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1863.
So it wasn’t surprising that the smoke billowing out of the tunnel leading to the Tigers’ locker room seemed a little thicker Saturday night. The student section and their notorious bunch known as “the Antlers” a little more vulgar. And the roars of their first sellout crowd this season just a little bit louder.
It didn’t take long for the Jayhawks to silence all of them.
After missing their first two shots, they proceeded to hit 11 straight, including five by Dick. Two of his were effortless 3-pointers, the second giving Kansas a 28-14 lead and prompting Gates to finally call a timeout.
“I think that gets us jacked up to play,” Adams said of the atmosphere. “It really set a tone for us.”
Not even the return of Hall of Fame basketball coach Norm Stewart nor football coach Gary Pinkel could shake Missouri from its malaise. The Tigers missed 16 of their first 22 shots, allowing Kansas to establish a 36-17 lead — to the chagrin of three-time Cy Young Award winner and former Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer, who also was in the crowd.
“We just didn’t execute how we planned,” Honor said.
Dick and Adams had 15 points apiece by halftime as Kansas took a 50-33 lead to the locker room.
Nothing changed there: Missouri turned the ball over on four of its first six second-half possessions, and the Jayhawks turned the miscues into nine straight points. And despite a second-half slump that allowed Missouri to put together an 11-2 run, the Jayhawks were never seriously threatened down the stretch.
“Every segment of the game is a learning experience to get better. You have to learn to win on the road,” Self said, “and I thought we did a pretty good job with that tonight.”
Kansas got sloppy midway through the second half but otherwise was dominant on both ends of the floor. The Jayhawks were 10 of 22 from the 3-point arc, caused 21 turnovers and had 24 assists to just eight for the Tigers.
Missouri has played at a breakneck pace this season, scoring a nation-leading 23.9% of its points on fast breaks. But the more athletic Jayhawks outran the Tigers on Saturday night, outscoring them 22-10 in transition.
The Jayhawks begin a three-game homestand against No. 14 Indiana next Saturday.
The Tigers play Central Florida in the Orange Bowl Classic next Saturday in Sunrise, Florida.
By DAVE SKRETTA AP Basketball Writer