BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Every time he stepped to the free throw line, Kansas forward Marcus Morris tapped the black-and-white patch with “LR” stitched into his jersey just above his heart.
It was in honor of Lisa Robinson, 37.
The mother of sophomore sixth-man Thomas Robinson died unexpectedly of an apparent heart attack late Friday night. In the three weeks previously, her father and mother had died, leaving only Thomas and his 9-year-old sister, Jayla.
Robinson wasn’t at No. 6 Kansas’ 82-78 victory over Colorado on Tuesday night, having flown home to Washington, D.C., to be with his little sister, a second-grader.
His teammates will join him on Wednesday for the funeral the next day.
Morris decided to honor her memory before each free throw.
“We lost a team mom and I was kind of close to her, too, because she was from the same area as my family,” Morris said after scoring five of 15 points from the free throw line. “It was just out of respect. I’m going to do that for the rest of the year, too.”
The Jayhawks (19-1, 4-1 Big 12) overcame their grief and bounced back from their loss to Texas on Saturday — their nation’s-best 69-game homecourt winning streak was snapped by the Longhorns 12 hours after Robinson and his teammates learned of his latest family tragedy.
“It’s definitely tough to focus on basketball when you know every day he’s worried about his mom,” Morris said. “For any of the players on our team, that’s a tough task.”
Kansas, which hasn’t lost consecutive games in five years, built a big lead with 3-pointers, then won it at the free throw line. The Jayhawks scored their last nine points from there to hold off the Buffaloes (14-7, 3-3), who got 25 points from Alec Burks but saw their 14-game home winning streak snapped.
Kansas freshman Josh Selby scored 15 of his 17 points in the first half before turning an ankle that limited his mobility. Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar, who had been in a prolonged shooting slump, each chipped in 14 points.
“Before the game he texted me and said, ‘Don’t worry about me, I’m good. Just make sure y’all get this win today,”‘ Selby said of Robinson. “So we all wanted to come out here and get this win for him.”
The Jayhawks’ hearts might still be heavy, but their focus was back on basketball.
“We played good today,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I don’t think we were the most energized group ever, but I do think our attitudes were good and our heads were right. … They know Thomas is going to be OK and they’ll feel better after going out there tomorrow.”
Morris and his twin brother, Markieff, were with Robinson on Friday night when Robinson got a voice mail from his little sister.
“She was crying and he just looked at us and said, ‘I don’t even want to talk to her because I can’t bear no more bad news,”‘ Morris recounted. “He called her back and she told him and he just dropped down in tears.
“It felt like we just lost a big piece of everything. Just for all of us. And we were all crying there with him.”
The teammate they affectionately call “T-Rob” called Morris after the game.
“He just said, ‘Way to hold it down, cousin,”‘ Morris said. “That’s what we call each other, cousins. Even though we’re brothers.”
Burks’ two free throws with 31 seconds left pulled the Buffs to 78-76, the closest they had been in the second half. Before the inbounds, Reed was fouled and made both of his free throws.
Cory Higgins drove to the hoop to make it 80-78 with 24 seconds left, but Morris hit two free throws, tapping the patch before each one, and the Buffaloes couldn’t find the basket after that.
The Jayhawks outrebounded Colorado 37-23, which led to a 21-2 advantage in second-chance points.
“If we rebound we win that game,” Higgins suggested.
The Jayhawks are 29-1 against Colorado in Big 12 play with the loss 60-59 at Boulder on Jan. 22, 2003. They are 120-39 against Colorado overall and have beaten the Buffs 43 times in 44 games since 1991.
This was the Jayhawks’ last trip to the Coors Events Center as a conference foe with the Buffs leaving for the newly named Pac-12 next season.
“We all really wanted this one,” Buffs guard Marcus Relphorde said.
The only member of the Kansas basketball staff who will not attend the services for Lisa Robinson will be video coordinator Kyle Keller. He will take part in observances in Stillwater, Okla., marking the 10th anniversary of the plane crash that claimed the lives of 10 members of the Oklahoma State basketball program.
Keller was on the Oklahoma State staff at the time and would have been on the plane that crashed if then-coach Eddie Sutton hadn’t asked him to take another flight.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)