COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor couldn't get anything going early for Kansas against Texas A&M.
The Jayhawks were OK though thanks to Elijah Johnson's 18 points in the first half that carried the team until their stars warmed up after halftime.
Johnson scored 21 points and Taylor made key plays down the stretch to help No. 4 Kansas fight off a late run by Texas A&M for a 66-58 victory Wednesday night.
"I needed to score for us tonight," Johnson said. "I was just aggressive and I ended up playing into a role. My points just kept us on top."
Johnson finished two points shy of his career-high and his first half performance helped offset Robinson and Taylor combining for three points in the first 20 minutes.
"He got us off to a good start," Taylor said. "He shot the ball well. We've been waiting for Elijah to come on. It was good for him to get a little bit of confidence going into a big game on Saturday."
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That big game is a showdown for the Big 12 lead with No. 3 Missouri, a team that beat the Jayhawks 74-71 in the first meeting Feb. 4.
Kansas (23-5, 13-2) led by as many as 21 points in the second half before a big run by the Aggies got them within striking distance.
"To put them in a position to be able to win the game is beyond belief because we were just making basketball plays experienced guys should never make," Kansas coach Bill Self said.
A 3-pointer by Dash Harris cut the Kansas lead to four points, but Taylor made the first of two free throws to leave Kansas up 61-56 with about a minute remaining.
Johnson added a free throw before Robinson fouled out on a technical he received during a scuffle between players when they were trying to secure a loose ball.
Elston Turner made both free throws to make it 62-58 with 40 seconds left, but Jeff Withey scored four points after that to guarantee the win.
Khris Middleton led Texas A&M (13-14, 4-11) with 23 points.
"We just didn't take smart shots, we rushed up, took quick shots that weren't good team looks, and it put us in a hole," Harris said. "We can't play against top-10 teams or any team playing behind like that."
Kansas led 60-53 after Taylor scored the first basket for Kansas in almost 7 minutes on a three-point play with just under 2 minutes remaining.
Self didn't like the way his team responded when the Aggies went on their run saying: "Bad shots shouldn't lead to bad attitudes."
He just couldn't understand why his team played so terribly in that stretch.
"When things aren't going well you've got to find a way to change it and we didn't change it," he said.
Texas A&M shook off a bad start to the second half by going on a 24-8 run starting at the 11-minute mark to cut the Jayhawks' lead to 57-53 with about 2 minutes remaining. Kansas made six free throws in that span, but the team's only basket came on a layup by Johnson.
Middleton scored 13 points in that time.
The Jayhawks were frustrated that they allowed A&M to get back in it after they built such a huge lead.
"That should never happen," Taylor said. "You've got to be able to put teams away when you're up that much. We made the game a little interesting. It was good that we pulled it out, but we shouldn't have let it get that close."
The Jayhawks were leading by seven points early in the second half before they scored 14 straight points to stretch the lead to 47-26 with just more than 13 minutes remaining. Robinson had five points in that span and capped the run with a three-point play.
Robinson finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds to extend his streak of scoring in double figures to 16 straight games.
This is the seventh straight season the Jayhawks have had 13 conference wins and their 23rd consecutive season with 23 wins. They have won eight straight over A&M and are 19-1 all-time against the Aggies in what could be the last meeting for a while. A&M is heading to the Southeastern Conference next season.
The paltry crowd of 6,868 was peppered with Kansas fans, including former Jayhawks coach Larry Brown, who watched the game from a front-row seat directly behind the visitors' bench.
Harris, a point guard, missed the last seven games with an injured foot. He didn't start, but entered the game early in the first half in his first game since Jan. 23 at Kansas.
He had eight points and David Loubeau and Turner added 10 points each for the Aggies, who trailed 31-21 at halftime.
|Kansas' Elijah Johnson dunks for two of his team-high 21 points against Texas A&M. (US Presswire)|
|Kansas #4 (23-5) «||31||35||66|
|Texas A&M (13-14)||21||37||58|
|KS:E. Johnson 21 Pts
KS:T. Robinson 13 Reb
KS:T. Taylor 4 Ast
|TXAM:K. Middleton 23 Pts
TXAM:R. Turner 8 Reb
TXAM:E. Turner 5 Ast
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|PLAYERS OF THE GAME|
|E. Johnson, G||35||7-11||4-7||3||1||1||21|
|T. Taylor, G||30||4-10||3-5||0||4||4||12|
|J. Withey, C||28||3-7||5-7||7||0||1||11|
|T. Releford, G||28||2-6||0-1||7||2||4||4|
|T. Robinson, F||28||3-10||4-5||13||4||5||10|
|C. Teahan, G||28||0-6||4-4||8||1||0||4|
|K. Young, F||16||2-4||0-0||2||0||0||4|
|J. Wesley, F||5||0-0||0-0||1||0||0||0|
|N. Tharpe, G||2||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|J. Juenemann, G||Did Not Play|
|N. Roberts, G||Did Not Play|
|C. Garrett, G||Did Not Play|
|M. Lindsay, G||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|Texas A&M Aggies|
|E. Turner, G||38||3-9||2-2||7||5||2||10|
|K. Middleton, F||33||8-14||4-4||5||2||3||23|
|R. Turner, F||31||2-7||0-3||8||0||4||4|
|J. Green, G||20||1-4||1-2||2||0||1||3|
|D. Loubeau, F||17||4-10||2-2||2||0||5||10|
|D. Harris, G||24||3-6||1-1||3||4||2||8|
|K. Davis, C||18||0-0||0-0||2||1||1||0|
|Z. Kinsley, G-F||13||0-4||0-0||0||0||2||0|
|D. Alexander, F||6||0-1||0-0||1||0||0||0|
|N. Hibbert, G||Did Not Play|
|K. Roberson, F||Did Not Play|
|A. Baird, G||Did Not Play|
|J. Jahns, F||Did Not Play|
|B. McDonald, G||Did Not Play|
|G. Jolly, F||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|