LAS VEGAS — As he watched his career-best seventh three-pointer swish through the net Saturday night, Jacob Pullen stuck out his tongue and smiled.
Kansas State’s players were able to keep their emotions in check throughout much of their meaningful 95-80 victory over No. 18 UNLV at the Orleans Arena, but there was something about the moment that finally got to Pullen.
Maybe he figured the Wildcats had clinched the game. Maybe he realized the win was going to move K-State to 9-1 and likely earn them a spot in the Top 25 on Monday. Or perhaps he was simply reacting to Rebels guard Oscar Bellfield, who he remembers cursing in frustration and telling him "it's a long night," when the shot went through.
"When you do that and you're shooting the ball, you've gotta laugh," said Pullen, a junior guard who led all scorers with 28 points. "They were playing good D. We were making tough shots. When it's falling like that, I would have said the same thing if (he) was doing that to me."
UNLV struggled to keep up with K-State all night and led by no more than two points midway through the first half.
From there, Pullen and senior guard Denis Clemente, who made three three-pointers and scored 22 points, got hot and led the Wildcats to a 23-point lead.
Their smooth shooting touch spread across the team. By game's end K-State had made 57.1 percent of its shots from the field and a scorching 60.9 percent from beyond the arc. For the night, the Wildcats made 14 threes.
Those numbers led to a season-high point total and their second nonconference win over a ranked team this year. The last time K-State accomplished that feat was during the 1958-59 season.
For coach Frank Martin, the success was easy to figure.
"Anytime you make that many shots you're going to score a lot of points," he said.
He went on to say the Wildcats gave themselves open looks by making the extra pass and finding the open man. K-State had 19 assists.
Jamar Samuels took advantage of the passes for 14 points and Curtis Kelly added 13. But seemingly everyone was a threat to score.
"There was no person they felt like they could double," Pullen said.
The Wildcats’ best stretch came in the early moments of the second half, when both Pullen and Clemente hit threes to spark a 13-0 run and give K-State a 67-45 lead with 13:54 to play.
The 13 straight points were scored in less than a minute and a half and left UNLV with little hope of coming back.
"That was probably the best run we've went on this season," Kelly said. "It got real ugly, real fast for them."
The Rebels did close to within 85-65 with 6:24 left to play, but that's when Pullen made his seventh and final three-pointer.
It was a dagger that gave UNLV, 7-1, its first loss of the season and gave K-State its most impressive win of the season.
"We went out and the team played its heart out," Pullen said. "We were on the floor for loose balls and were blocking shots. We did everything Frank asked of us.æ.æ.æ. It was a great win for us."