TUCSON In time, Jacob Pullen will be remembered by Kansas State fans as the top scorer in school history. But today, he is known across the nation as perhaps the finest collegiate player without more NCAA Tournament games ahead of him.
Despite matching his career high with 38 points and displaying an all-around fabulous effort Saturday night at the McKale Center, the senior guard ended his career in tears.
The No. 5-seed Wildcats, who a season ago advanced to the Elite Eight, were knocked out of the NCAA Tournament by No. 4-seed Wisconsin 70-65 in a third-round game.
No matter how memorable Pullen's two games were in this regional, there will be no memorable postseason run for Kansas State this year. For the moment, that pain outweighs everything else.
"I don't think I played well," Pullen said. "Not well enough, anyway. We lost, that means it was a bad game.
Just as it did three years ago in a second-round game, Wisconsin sent K-State home in agonizing fashion. While this loss was equally painful, it happened in much different fashion.
This game was close throughout. Wisconsin, a physical team from the Big Ten that likes to play at a slow pace, was challenged by K-State from start to finish.
Pullen, who passed Mike Evans to become K-State's career scoring leader (2,132 points) with an impressive offensive performance, made sure of that.
Much like displays of All-America form against BYU in last year's NCAA Tournament and earlier this season in a win over Kansas, the senior guard was dialed in when he had the ball in his hands.
He went to the basket with authority, confidently sank six three-pointers and led his team like a respected veteran.
"He was fearless," said senior forward Curtis Kelly, who scored 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
When Pullen broke the school's scoring record with a highlight reel driving layup early in the second half making defender Jordan Taylor commit to a non-existent pass K-State fans began chanting his name.
Not that Pullen could appreciate it at the time.
"None of that stuff matters right now," Pullen said. "Maybe months or some time from right now I will look back and enjoy it. But right now with a loss I don't really care about it. It means nothing to me."
Other than Pullen and Kelly, the Wildcats began the game with an intimidated look in their eyes and struggled to score. Coaches said they appeared scared.
But the veteran duo made shot after shot for the Wildcats and guided them to a 21-17 lead midway through the first half by scoring their team's first 26 points. By halftime, Pullen scored 17 points in 15 foul-plagued minutes, and Kelly chipped in nine. No one else wearing purple registered a field goal in the first half.
"Jacob made shots," K-State coach Frank Martin said. "But no one else did."
It wasn't until less than two minutes remained in the half that Rodney McGruder gave K-State a third player in the scorebook by sinking a free throw.
Jamar Samuels eventually provided help on the offensive end by scoring eight points and grabbing nine rebounds, but without further assistance for Pullen and Kelly, K-State struggled to keep pace with Wisconsin.
Led by a balanced attack that saw four players score 11 or more points, the Badgers used a 14-4 run to take a 34-27 lead, and carried a 36-30 advantage into the break.
Jon Leuer led Wisconsin with 19 points and seven rebounds.
Martin was challenging his team before halftime, but his words didn't sink in until he got to the locker room.
"In the second half we came out and made shots," Martin said. "We got more people involved in what we were doing in the second half than in the first half. Our energy was better."
Indeed, the Wildcats started the second half by scoring 10 straight points. Jamar Samuels got the run going with a nice driving layup and Pullen scored the next seven by sandwiching two three-pointers around his record-breaking basket.
K-State led 40-36, and the competition heated up from there. Wisconsin answered with five straight points, and the remainder of the game was marked by lead changes.
In the end, the Badgers came up with the defensive stop the Wildcats could not. With 10.1 seconds remaining, Wisconsin led 68-65 and K-State had one final opportunity to get the ball to Pullen and see what happened.
On the previous possession, he drew a foul while shooting a three and made two foul shots to pull his team within 66-65. Taylor, who scored 12 points, made two foul shots on the other end and set the stage for Pullen's final shot. Pullen caught a pass, approached the three-point line and fired. But Taylor blocked the shot before it could go anywhere.
The Badgers were simply too strong. Because of that, they now advance to the Sweet 16 for the second-straight year. They will take on No. 8 seed Butler in New Orleans.
Their, they will take on the team that defeated K-State in an Elite Eight game in Salt Lake City last season.
The Wildcats will no doubt wake up today wishing they were getting a second shot at revenge earlier this week.
"I just wanted to win the game," Pullen said. "I don't care about a scoring record or anything else. I wanted to get to the Final Four and I didn't get the chance to do that."