MANHATTAN — On the eve of the biggest game of the season, Jamar Samuels acted like Jamar Samuels.
Before leaving the practice floor at Bramlage Coliseum, he jumped on the back of an unsuspecting Martavious Irving. Then he pretended to accidentally fall into Jacob Pullen while he talked on the phone. And for good measure, he grabbed a loose basketball and showed off his dribbling skills to no one in particular.
All of it was done with a smile. All of it made his teammates chuckle.
When told it didn't look like the importance of today's game against No. 2 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse was weighing on him, Samuels' smile grew even larger.
"It's going to be a great fight," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."
This is how Samuels always deals with the pressure of big games. Before heading to Puerto Rico for a three-game tournament, he joked about meeting a beautiful local girl on the beach instead of Kansas State's opponents.
With his team facing a string of important conference games in February, he spent his free time convincing Pullen to join Twitter. Before heading to UNLV, he cracked jokes about playing slot machines and dining at cheap all-you-can-eat buffets.
K-State has risen the a No. 5 ranking with Samuels being himself — there's no need to change the routine now.
K-State coach Frank Martin would be displeased if he did.
"Dealing with pressure is nothing new to this team," Martin said Tuesday. "Whether we play well or not tomorrow has nothing to do with pressure. Every time we play, regardless of opponent, we put an unbelievable amount of pressure on our guys. Why? We want to have our guys prepared for when they play games like this late in the year."
One of those daily simulations that could end up helping more than any other was K-State's successful December trip to Las Vegas.
The buildup to that game was similar to now.
The Wildcats were yet to break into the national polls, and UNLV was ranked No. 18 at the time. The game was played off campus at the Orleans Arena, but a sellout crowd of 8,320 fans filled the building. K-State had to maintain its focus despite pregame festivities that involved pyrotechnics and fireworks.
The stakes were lower than the regular-season conference championship and postseason implications that are on the line tonight, but the Wildcats yearned for victory and respect all the same.
"We understood that we really needed to go out and showcase our ability against a ranked team," Pullen said.
They had never been there before, but shortly into the game it looked as if they had. K-State raced to a 42-34 lead and won 95-80.
"That was our first real road test, and we passed it," Curtis Kelly said. "We went out and played our game, we focused on each other instead of focusing on the crowd."
The secret to that success?
"We were calm," Pullen said. "We understood what we were getting ourselves into. We did a great job of just coming in and making shots. That was a big deal."
Will the results be the same tonight? Samuels is unsure. But he's gone out of the way to make sure his mindset is the same. Nerves won't be a factor.
"You can't have fear in the Big 12," Samuels said. "If you have fear in the Big 12, you're going to lose. That's why we're going in there to win."