That may have been the difference for No. 13 Kansas in its victory over second-ranked Ohio State.
The Jayhawks' starting point guard had a career-high 13 assists despite a torn meniscus and sprained MCL in his right knee, helping Kansas to a 78-67 victory over the Buckeyes, who were missing Sullinger for the second consecutive game because of back spasms.
"I can get on Ty because he will turn it over every now and then, but where would we be without him?" Kansas coach Bill Self said. "We don't win the game tonight if he doesn't play. He definitely isn't 100 percent."
Thomas Robinson took advantage of Sullinger's absence inside to score 21 points, and newcomer Kevin Young came off the bench to add a career-high 14 for the Jayhawks (6-2), who extended their winning streak to 47 games over nonconference opponents at Allen Fieldhouse.
"When you make mistakes, Kansas is so good, they're going to make you pay, and we made some key mistakes," Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. "Our guys competed -- just made mistakes down the stretch."
Taylor hurt his knee in practice earlier in the week and could have opted for surgery, but the Jayhawks' medical staff decided he wouldn't harm it any more by playing. They left it up to him to the senior to decide whether he could manage the pain, and Self didn't ask how much he was experiencing.
"If you ask them if they're hurting, then you give them an opportunity to give you an answer," Self said, adding that Taylor hadn't practiced all week until Friday.
He'll have surgery Sunday and will miss about three weeks.
It was more publicly known that Sullinger was a question mark, but he wasn't ruled out until just before the game, when his balky back simply wouldn't loosen up.
"As I told Coach Self when we shook hands before the game, 'Merry Christmas early,'" Matta said.
"I don't think his exact words were, 'Merry Christmas,'" Self said with a grin. "I think there were some other words in there, maybe describing the holiday."
"I don't think you put an asterisk with the win," Self added. "Ohio State can certainly say, and rightfully so, 'Jared didn't play.' And we know he didn't play, and they're a much better team with him. We wanted him to play. But just because he plays doesn't guarantee anything."
The Jayhawks were desperate for a high-profile victory after losses to top-ranked Kentucky and Duke (No. 5 ESPN/USA Today, No. 7 AP), and they got on against a Buckeyes team that had led the nation in scoring margin.
"We had this awesome nonconference schedule set up and we still have some good teams to play, but the main teams were Kentucky, Ohio State and Duke," Robinson said, "and it would have been incomplete if we didn't get one of them."
Buoyed by a frenzied crowd that jammed Allen Fieldhouse to the rafters, the Jayhawks raced to a 23-13 lead just over midway through the first half, the decibel level at one point registering 114 on the scoreboard -- roughly equal to that of a rock concert.
Robinson did most of the work inside, capitalizing on the absence of Sullinger to score around the rim. He had all seven of his first-half points during the opening flurry, and Connor Teahan and Johnson each hit 3-pointers as noise seemed ready to lift the roof from the building.
The Buckeyes finally hit their stride, and it was Thomas who jump-started them.
The sophomore forward hit consecutive 3-pointers from well beyond the arc, and Amir Williams added his only basket of the first half to slice into the lead. Thomas' third 3-pointer of the half and free throws by Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Evan Ravenel trimmed it to 33-29 with a minute left.
Young's basket moments later off a feed from Robinson gave Kansas a six-point lead at the break.
The school announced new football coach Charlie Weis during the intermission, and he concluded a brief statement by saying, "Let's go whup Ohio State. Rock chalk, Jayhawk!"
The Jayhawks gladly obliged.
Johnson hit two more 3-pointers early in the second half, and the lead swelled to 47-37 when Releford hit a 3-pointer off a feed from Johnson and Jeff Withey scored on a putback.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta called timeout to calm his team down, and Buford proved his veteran poise by scoring the first basket when play resumed. It was the start of four-minute run in which he scored all five of the Buckeyes' field goals, getting them back within single digits.
The closest it ever got was 62-58, though.
Back-to-back turnovers by Thomas and Jordan Sibert prevented the Buckeyes from having a chance to take the lead, and Robinson converted a three-point play when he was fouled on a putback off a miss by Young with 2:40 remaining in the game. His free throw restored the lead to 71-61.
Robinson and the Jayhawks took care of things from the foul line down the stretch, allowing the reigning Big 12 champions to beat the defending Big Ten champs for the fourth straight time.
"We competed. We're a competitive team and that's a positive," Thomas said. "Without Jared, we came out and competed without him. We're a great team with him, don't get me wrong, but we came out and competed and that's one thing that coach noticed."
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