Bob Lutz: Kansas State creates own identity with gutsy win

02/11/2014 12:00 AM

02/11/2014 5:53 AM

Kansas State basketball fans couldn't believe what they were seeing Monday night. Twice.

First it was a nine-point Wildcats lead over Kansas with just 1:53 to play. You don't exactly wrap up a nine-point lead with that much time left and put a ribbon on it. But it's safe to assume it looked like an insurmountable lead.

It wasn't.

Kansas came back. Of course, Kansas came back. There are many reasons why the Jayhawks had won 23 of 25 games against the Wildcats at Bramlage Coliseum. And one is that K-State just hasn't experienced the sensation.

KU went on a 10-1 run at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime and to send a sellout crowd into despair. It was reasonable to expect Kansas State's team to follow them down that trail.

But Kansas State sucked it up. That's not the most glamorous way to describe the Wildcats in overtime, but it's accurate. Left for dead and with everything stacked against them, K-State took it to Kansas in the extra five minutes and won, 85-82.

Kansas State coach Bruce Weber rode a cloud to his post-game radio interview and talked a mile a minute. Nobody understood what he was saying, but they hung on every word.

Give the Wildcats credit. But it's also fair to wonder what Kansas was doing. Where were Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden? What happened to Frank Mason? Why didn't Jamari Traylor see the floor?

KU coach Bill Self struggled to find the right combination, thanks to the absence mentally and physically of several key guys. Embiid and Selden, in particular, did not handle the hostility provided by the Kansas State sellout crowd and the Wildcats, who lost to KU by 26 points last month in Lawrence.

But K-State is a different team now. And so, perhaps, is Kansas.

The best freshman on the floor Monday was K-State's Marcus Foster, who had 20 points and made two huge free throws with 21.9 seconds left in overtime to give K-State a four-point lead.

Foster is getting better and better as the season continues while the KU freshmen are battling inconsistency and what at times appears to be disinterest.

Neither Embiid or Selden looked engaged. And Mason did nothing. Had it not been for Perry Ellis, who had 19 points, the Jayhawks wouldn't have been within 12 blocks of overtime.

I was surprised Self gave some of his players as much of a leash as he did. I expected freshman guard Conner Frankamp to get significant second-half playing time after a solid eight minutes in the first half when Tharpe sat out with two fouls.

But Frankamp wasn't seen until there were four minutes remaining in the game. He and Brannen Greene were both good, but we'll see if they have earned more playing time.

Kansas State lacks KU's marquee value when it comes to personnel, but the Wildcats were as blue-collar beautiful as it gets Monday.

Senior Omari Lawrence and sophomore D.J. Johnson, who average about six points combined, came off the bench to score nine apiece. Lawrence had six points in the second half; Johnson had all nine of his points in the second half and overtime.

K-State's Weber worked his bench to perfection. A weakness much of the season, the Wildcats' reserves outscored the Kansas bench players, 30-26.

And it's OK for Kansas State to win one of these Sunflower Showdowns once in a while. In fact, it's better than OK. A Kansas-Kansas State basketball game should have some intrigue. It's fun to mix it up.

And with a player like Foster around, look for the Wildcats to hold their own. I would be surprised if Kansas State wins 23 of the next 25, but we know this: Kansas State currently has a one-game winning streak over the Jayhawks.

In what has been an unbelievable season for college basketball in Kansas, the Wildcats added some flavor to the bountiful pot.

It wasn't easy. There were moments of intense consternation and times when Kansas State fans had to look away.

When it was finally over, and when they could again breathe, KSU fans stormed the floor. Not so much out of jubilation, although there was plenty of that, but because they were just so relieved.

It's no fun to get beat up by your rival year after year, especially at home. And then to lose that nine-point lead and see the game slip into overtime.

Some bad thoughts were going around Bramlage. Some very bad thoughts.

But Kansas State pulled it out. It wouldn't have been right for the Wildcats to lose this one. It would have haunted their fans for a very long time. And nobody wants to be haunted.

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