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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Kansas State topples No. 1 Kansas 84-68 in Sunflower Showdown

BY KELLIS ROBINETT
The Wichita Eagle

MANHATTAN — The race was on.

As soon as the final buzzer sounded and Kansas State's unexpected 84-68 victory over top-ranked Kansas was complete Monday night at Bramlage Coliseum, fans from every corner stormed the court to start a party that felt long overdue.

Students, children, alumni. They were all out there.

For one night, when Jacob Pullen played like an All-American with 38 points, Kansas State played up to expectations. It resembled the team everyone predicted it to be when the Wildcats started the season ranked third nationally and were picked to win the Big 12.

It was the Wildcats' fourth win over a No. 1 team, and first against Kansas since 2008.

"We're a force to be reckoned with," sophomore guard Rodney McGruder said.

K-State (17-9, 5-6 Big 12) may have lost too many games by now for its preseason dreams to become reality, but in some ways that made Monday's upset victory all the more exciting and meaningful.

The Wildcats have been searching for a marquee victory that could help them reach the NCAA Tournament for months. They finally have it.

"It's a great opportunity for us," Pullen said. "It's an opportunity to ride this streak and ride this game and keep this energy and emotion riding into the next game."

And the rest of the season.

Behind a juiced crowd of 12,528 and the sensational play of Pullen, K-State controlled the game from start to finish.

“That was a beatdown,” KU coach Bill Self said.

Pullen scored 23 points in the first half to give his team a 42-33 lead, to make sure that never changed. By game's end, he drained five three-pointers on six attempts and made 15 free throws.

"He played great," KU guard Tyrel Reed said. "We couldn't stop him. He got to the line 19 times and did a great jobæ.æ.æ. . He was the best player in the game tonight."

His example led a furious effort by the Wildcats.

All season they have waited for him to overcome the loss of former point guard Denis Clemente and lead and score in the same way he did during the team's run to the Elite Eight last season.

For one night, Pullen might have been even better. He attacked the basket, made outside shots and guarded with tenacity.

"Jacob having the first half that he did gave all kinds of other kids confidence," K-State coach Frank Martin said.

Behind him, Jordan Henriquez-Roberts played inspired basketball and scored 10 points on top of five rebounds. So did McGruder. Freshman guard Will Spradling scored nine points.

They all played with passion. More than they have in quite some time.

"We know this game meant a lot for our season," McGruder said. “It could be a turning point for our season. Our coaches urged us to play with energy and that's what we did.”

For the Jayhawks (24-2, 9-2), who lost their second game of the Big 12 season hours after moving up to No. 1 in the national polls, Tyrel Reed led the way with 14 points and Marcus Morris scored 13.

K-State won the game thanks to energy more than anything else. Behind a crowd that cheered missed KU free throws the way it normally celebrates made K-State baskets, the Wildcats came out and played like a desperate team is supposed to.

They defended harder than they have throughout the season, and smothered Kansas with their pressure. The Jayhawks made silly mistakes with the basketball and struggled to find the basket despite making more than 52 percent of its shots in the first half.

"They just basically kicked our butts," KU’s Mario Little said. "They banged us around." That led to an early 30-16 lead for K-State, who was aggressive on the offensive end and sank jump shots at an impressive 56.3-percent clip.

The Jayhawks made a brief charge in the second half to pull within 46-41, but the Wildcats immediately answered with a 19-6 run to win.

The surge ended with a three by Pullen that rattled in, out and then back in the basket. The crowd erupted, and all that was left was to decide the final score.

The party was on. K-State had a statement win.

"We're going to give you a fight," McGruder said. "We're not going to give it up and lay down. No matter how our season has been going, we're going to keep fighting."

Check Kellis Robinett’s K-State blog at blogs.kansas.com/kstated. Reach him at krobinett@wichitaeagle.com.

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