MANHATTAN — Every time Kansas State wins an important basketball game, it seems to reveal something new about itself.
An 80-73 victory over No. 15 Iowa State on Saturday was no different. This time, the Wildcats showed toughness.
This was a game that featured hard plays, harder fouls, taunting, a bench warning, and a shoe to the face. But K-State persevered in the physical battle.
“It was a war,” said senior guard Shane Southwell, who scored 13 points. “It was a bar fight. They have two really good offensive rebounders, and they just sit there and get a body on you.”
“It was tough down there,” added junior forward Thomas Gipson, who scored 11 points. “I am strong, but their will to get the offensive rebounds is crazy.”
Iowa State took advantage early by jumping to a 9-4 lead, but K-State pulled ahead 39-34 at halftime. The second half was back and forth, with both teams getting their chances. But the Wildcats pulled away after Will Spradling made a three to give the Wildcats a 72-69 lead with 1 minute, 39 seconds remaining.
They were simply too strong, too deep and too tough. Behind Southwell, Gipson, D.J. Johnson, Marcus Foster and Wesley Iwundu, who all scored 11 or more points, and a whopping 38 points from the bench, they won their 15th straight home game, an arena record. It was also the Wildcats’ fifth win over a ranked team.
“It’s great for our seniors to leave that legacy,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said.
“The crowd gives us that extra boost we need on defense,” Gipson added. “I feel like this atmosphere is crazy. I love Kansas State. I love the fans, they give us that extra push to win.”
That extra push also helped K-State (20-9, 10-6 Big 12) climb into a four-way tie for second in the conference standings, along with Iowa State (22-6, 10-6), Oklahoma and Texas.
With games remaining at Oklahoma State and Baylor, the Wildcats can easily finish anywhere from second to fifth.
Iowa State was all alone in second when the game started. It almost stayed there behind the two-headed attack of Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane. Ejim dominated at times on his way to 30 points and 16 rebounds, while Kane had 24 points and eight rebounds.
But no other Iowa State scored more than eight points. K-State countered with nine players that scored. The biggest discrepancy came in bench points, where the Wildcats outscored the Cyclones 38-2.
K-State has come a long way from the beginning of the season, when its bench was its biggest weakness. Southwell scored his most points in more than a month by making four three-pointers in the first half. And Johnson continued his improvement, going 5 for 5 from the floor and grabbing six rebounds.
“We feel comfortable that we can go 10 deep,” Weber said.
K-State also shot the ball well from the free-throw line, making 23 of 29. That was important down the stretch.
Both teams showed signs of fatigue as the game wore on. The first 30 minutes took a lot of Ejim, who played through foul trouble in the second half after picking up a technical for taunting Nino Willaims after making a three-pointer.
Kane’s production dropped off after officials reviewed a sequence in which he stepped on Foster’s face following a foul. The officials determined the contact was inadvertent, and no penalty was issued.
On the K-State side, Southwell missed his final eight shots and Foster never truly got going.
But the Wildcats showed the toughness they needed to win. That was enough.