In the final minutes of the second half, Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe jammed his hands together and looked at his teammates. Bramlage Coliseum was coming in waves, all around them.
“Don’t break down!” Tharpe yelled, his voiced swallowed by an avalanche of noise. “Don’t break down.”
It was the final minutes on Monday night, and finally, it was a showdown. Kansas State’s players were gassed and dropping by the minute. Kansas was just trying to survive.
Perhaps that’s what this Monday night was about: Survival. No. 8 Kansas had done it in the final minutes of regulation, storming back from nine points down in the final two minutes. And here was K-State in overtime, rising from a near collapse, handing Kansas just its third loss in Manhattan in the last 31 years.
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In the moments after Kansas’ 85-82 loss, as K-State’s fans swarmed the floor, it felt like an instant classic. Two in-state rivals battling for 40 minutes — and beyond. The Jayhawks had played like a team that deserved to lose, and freshman Andrew Wiggins had nearly saved them with game-tying rebound basket in the final seconds of regulation.
Sophomore Perry Ellis had been effective all night, too, with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
But for first time since 2011, the Jayhawks left the floor of Bramlage Coliseum with a loss. Kansas dropped to 18-6 on the season and 9-2 in the Big 12. And in some ways, it felt like they lost twice. After trailing 68-59 with less than two minutes left, the Jayhawks had pulled off a near-impossible comeback.
A quick 6-0 burst in 30 seconds, turning the 68-59 deficit into a 68-65 ballgame. Another missed layup from K-State, two baskets from KU freshman Brannen Greene, and life for Kansas.
Nearly a minute later, with the lead at two, K-State’s Wesley Iwundu was missing a front end of a one-and-one, and Wiggins was contorting his body in position to grab his own missed shot and tie the game at 69-69 at the end of regulation.
All his life, Wiggins’ coaches and teammate have talked about his “second jump,” the ability to sky off the ground just moments after landing. This was that jump, saving the Jayhawks in the final seconds.
One month ago, in Lawrence, No. 8 Kansas had destroyed this same K-State team by 26 points. Now they were minutes away from their second Big 12 loss. Kansas State kept back-cutting, play after play. And the Jayhawks were left flustered.
But how did it happen? How had Kansas been 26 points better than K-State in one building, and so mediocre looking on the road. Some of it was the building, of course. This was, after all, a showdown, the way its often been in Manhattan over the last couple years. The Jayhawks had won six straight against K-State — and 13 of 14 in the series — but unlike all those ritual noogies in Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks have usally had to work inside Bramlage. The last three Kansas victories in Manhattan had come by an average of four points.
Some of it was K-State’s defense, a physical performance that seemed to limit the Jayhawks’ chances inside. And maybe some of it was youth. Wiggins and Wayne Selden combined to made two of their first 12 shots from the floor. Wiggins, at least, was active, hitting 8 of 15 from the free-throw line and finishing with 16 points. Selden, though, was just a little off. And freshman center Joel Embiid wasn’t much better, finishing with six points and never managing to take advantage of his length in the paint.
Kansas scratched out a 29-29 tie at halftime, but by the early minutes of the second half, Kansas had falling behind by seven, Bramlage was blasting its signature party song “Sandstorm.” and KU coach Bill Self was looking a little steamed.
The Jayhawks cut the K-State lead to 46-42 on an inside bucket from Wiggins with 12:46 left, his first field goal of the game. But K-State pushed the lead back to 50-42 before KU’s Frank Mason and K-State’s Thomas Gipson were assessed a double technical with more than 11 minutes left.
Then the injuries. So many injuries.
K-State freshman Marcus Foster appeared to turn an ankle with 8:49 left in the game. After Foster hit the deck, the Jayhawks played five-on-four on the other end. Foster would hobble to the bench, making his way to the locker room. It wasn’t quite Kevin Durant laying injured on the floor of Allen Fieldhouse, but it had a hint of drama. The Wildcats had to play without their leading scorer for the next several minutes.
By just under the six-minute mark, Foster had jogged back to the K-State bench and Will Spradling was breaking down Wiggins off the dribble and finishing of the glass. For a moment, as both teams sucked wind, and Naadir Tharpe yelled for his team to stay together, it felt like basketball anarchy was breaking out.
In one way, it was just beginning. For K-State, there was still another round of Sandstorm in overtime.