KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Those Kansas State fans worried about how the Wildcats ended their season can sleep well. The ‘Cats are back.
After losing their final two games – including a head-shaking upset on their home court to Iowa State – No. 2 seed Kansas State entered the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Championship there were questions about the Wildcats. Could they win if their guards’ shooting slump continued? Would their bigs’ occasional lack of scoring become a detriment?
For those two questions, two answers: No and no.
After three days of what coach Frank Martin described as “phenomenal” practices, Kansas State rocked and rolled to an 83-64 victory over No. 7 Oklahoma State in Thursday night’s third quarterfinal game. The score was not indicative of the Wildcats’ dominance.
Guards Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente combined for 31 points (making 7-of-15 3-pointers) and Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year Jamar Samuels came off the bench to score 27 with 10 rebounds.
“We understood what we did wrong,” Pullen said of the season-ending two-game losing streak. “We didn’t play the blame game. As a team we didn’t play well (the last two games). We wanted to come out and be physical on the defensive end. We tried to get back to doing what we do well on the defensive end.”
Kansas State imposed its will late in the first half. The Wildcats jumped to a 25-12 lead before the Cowboys started finding openings against K-State’s trapping defense. Oklahoma State hit three 3-pointers and pulled within 27-23 with 8:21 remaining.
The rest of the first half was a nightmare for coach Travis Ford’s team. The Cowboys scored three points. At the break, Kansas State had a 51-26 advantage on the scoreboard and a 25-8 edge in rebounding. Samuels out-boarded Oklahoma State with nine.
One example of Kansas State’s pressure defense: Trailing 35-26, Oklahoma State’s possession fizzled and with the ball 40 feet from the basket, Roger Franklin had to fling it to beat the shot clock. His “shot” was an air ball ... that sailed over the backboard.
Samuels capped the first by hitting his second 3-pointer with five seconds remaining. Pullen made the assist then body bumped Samuels on the way to the locker room.
“I was in his face telling he can control the whole game,” Pullen said. “He’s a mismatch because he’s a ‘four’ man who can step out and shoot.”
In Kansas State’s loss to Oklahoma State, Samuels was a non-factor because of foul trouble.
“He’s like the glue guy for their team,” said the Cowboys’ James Anderson, who scored 27 but needed 21 shots. “We knew that he was capable of putting up numbers. He just outhustled us and that's something that we can't let guys do.”
Kansas State’s lead ballooned to 67-34 eight minutes into the second half. The Wildcats then switched to a zone to conserve energy for the rest of the weekend. The goal is three games – and three victories – in three days.
“We had gotten away from who we are and how we play and that was my fault,” Martin said. “That’s what we’ve worked to build, that edge, the relentless defensive pressure. I just wanted us to get back to the way we’ve played for 90 percent of the season.
“I’m happy, it’s the first time in my career I get to use a second suit in the Big 12 Tournament.”