KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas State looked like a team playing without any pressure in the Big 12 tournament Wednesday night.
Maybe because that's the way the Wildcats have chosen to approach it.
They know that they'll need to win four games in four days to make the NCAA Tournament, and they are unlikely to be favored the rest of the way. But they at least got the first one out of the way, holding on after building a big early lead to beat Oklahoma State 75-71 in the opening round.
"There should be no pressure on us," Wildcats coach Bruce Weber said. "We just have to come and play and enjoy the opportunity. That's what we've talked about."
Freshman forward Dean Wade took advantage of his opportunity, scoring a career-best 20 points. Justin Edwards added 17 and Wesley Iwundu had 14 for the eighth-seeded Wildcats (17-15), who will play top-ranked Kansas — the tournament's No. 1 seed — in Thursday's quarterfinals.
"It is definitely going to be challenging, the No. 1 team in the country," Edwards said. "Like coach said, we have to go back to the hotel, get rested and hopefully be energized for tomorrow."
Jeffrey Carroll and Joe Burton scored 13 points apiece for No. 9 seed Oklahoma State, which lost its 20th game for the first time since the 1971-72 season. And that could create an uncomfortable few days for coach Travis Ford, who still has three years and $7.2 million remaining on his 10-year contract.
The pressure has been mounting on Ford all season, despite a rash of injuries — including season-enders to star guard Phil Forte and standout freshman Jawun Evans — that robbed him of his intended lineup.
"People have asked me about it, and they don't understand the life I live," Ford said. "They are not around me enough to know my mindset of how I work. I immerse myself into trying to figure out how to help this team every way possible, and you know, I haven't really — you know, I put everything I could in trying to figure out how to beat K-State. And now I am thinking about what I could have done differently."
Tyree Griffin scored 11 points and Leyton Hammonds had 10 for the Cowboys, who lost in the first round of the tournament for the first time to finish the season with seven consecutive defeats.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats wiped away the memory of a loss to TCU as the No. 8 seed a year ago.
Kansas State jumped on the Cowboys right from the start Wednesday night, using a 10-0 run and a 9-0 run minutes apart to build a double-digit lead. It eventually swelled to as many as 18 points when Iwundu knocked down a jumper and then hit a pair of foul shots in the closing minutes of the first half.
Kansas State still led 40-23 at the break.
The Cowboys, who began the game 4 for 15 from the field, scored on their first six possessions of the second half to chip into the lead. But once their offense got going, their defense collapsed, and the Wildcats were able to match them shot-for-shot for several minutes to keep them at bay.
It was still 67-59 with just over two minutes left when Kansas State forward Stephen Hurt knocked down a baseline jumper. Anthony Allen rattled the rim with a dunk at the other end, but Iwundu went coasting to the rim and was fouled, making the first of two free throws for some breathing room.
It came in handy when Hammonds hit a 3-pointer to make it 70-64 with 1:24 remaining.
The Wildcats struggled to put the game away from the foul line with Iwundu and Brian Rohleder each missing a pair. But after a basket by Tyree Griffin made it 73-68 with 21 seconds left, Barry Brown was able to convert the first of two free throws to help seal the win.
"Now it's all about getting rest, getting good preparation," Iwundu said, "and coming to fight the hardest tomorrow to make it a good game and hopefully come out with the win."