MANHATTAN — Jacob Pullen dropped to his knees and kissed the Bramlage Coliseum floor Saturday, exiting his final home game with a goodbye.
"This was the last time I was ever going to be able to step on that Powercat and shoot a three, get a rebound, anything like that," Pullen said. "It was an emotional game for me."
Kansas State’s 67-55 victory over Iowa State was a fitting farewell. Pullen stayed focused through a stirring pregame ceremony to honor him and Curtis Kelly to score 17 points.
Kelly added 13 points and eight rebounds, so K-State celebrated its final game of the regular season the way it had long intended. The team took a victory lap, slapping hands with every fan that stayed through the end, and Pullen was handed a microphone.
He thanked his supporters and promised he’d fight for a Big 12 Tournament championship next week.
"To go up there," Pullen would later say, "with all the things we've been through, and all the ups and downs and people writing us off, people quitting.æ.æ.æ. If we can win three in three days, it would mean a lot to me."
K-State (22-9, 10-6 Big 12) will be the fourth seed, its late-season run meaning the Wildcats will have a first-round bye Wednesday.
They have won six straight games and 8 of 9, and head into the postseason as the league's hottest team.
"If we're good enough to put ourselves in that conversation, then we're good enough to beat anyone else in the country," Wildcat coach Frank Martin said. "That's how we look at it."
K-State put the finishing touches on its streak Saturday despite at times playing like it did early in the season. After Kelly and Pullen fed off the energy of the crowd to score the game's first seven points, Iowa State gave them a challenge.
The Cyclones used 18 points from Diante Garrett to fight back within 33-29 at halftime and took their first lead, 39-38, with 15:19 remaining.
K-State has scored well the last month with good ball movement and Pullen driving to the basket. But the Wildcats were much less active in half-court sets against ISU and made 46.8 percent of their shots and turned the ball over 19 times.
"I thought we took good shots, the ball just didn't go through the net for us," Pullen said. "With that happening, that's when defensively you've got to make things happen from defense to get into offense and we were able to do that. Toward the end of the game we were able to make shots."
Still, K-State didn’t pull away until Will Spradling, who scored 13 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists, and walk-on Devon Peterson, who scored four, came off the bench and made contributions in the second half.
"We're playing better right now," Kelly said. "I think we're starting to grow into our potential."
Well, that and the Wildcats are playing better defense. ISU shot 37.1 percent.
"They played pressure defense and they really got out on the wings and denied," Iowa State guard Scott Christopherson said. "It makes it hard for you to get into your offense. They force you to put it on the floor and they really did that to us today."
Defense is one of Pullen's specialties. So is signing autographs. He displayed both skills Saturday, helping K-State make seven steals and staying at Bramlage long after the game to satisfy fans.
"I'm going to ice my wrist," Pullen joked, Sharpie in hand.
Martin encouraged him to enjoy the moment. After four years in the program, he deserved it.
"Jake has earned everything that comes his way," Martin said. "He wins and he produces and he's accountable. Whether we've won or lost he comes out and answers your questions every single day. He's a stand-up kid. I wish I would have been that stand-up when I was 21 years old."