Kansas State basketball holds off Washington State 63-58

PULLMAN, Wash. -- When Kansas State's 63-58 victory over Washington State on Friday was complete, Frank Martin paced the hallway outside the visiting locker room and wiped sweat off his forehead with both hands.

The fifth-ranked Wildcats survived their first true road trip of the season in front of 11,671 rowdy fans, and the process took a lot out of everyone involved in it. Even those who didn't play.

Some coaches would complain or laugh in that situation. But not Martin. He puffed out his chest and grinned. He has viewed this trip to Friel Court as a test of his team's collective mental toughness for some time now, and it passed.

"Adversity shows character," Martin said. "That's why I wanted our team in an adverse situation, to see how we handled it. Well, obviously there is some character there."

The final score and a few red flags on the stat sheet -- 21 turnovers, a 39.7 percent shooting effort and an uncharacteristically low eight points from senior guard Jacob Pullen -- show the Wildcats have plenty still to improve on, but they certainly are looking good in the resolve department.

K-State (7-1) overcame sloppy play and a late deficit to win on a Pac-10 campus for the first time since 1980 and hand Washington State (5-1) its first loss in the toughest environment it has seen since traveling to Kansas at the end of last season.

"Down with a couple minutes to go and we just figure out a way to grind out a win," Martin said. " This is big for our basketball team."

It was fitting, then, that K-State's big men were the main reasons why the Wildcats held off the Cougars.

Curtis Kelly scored 15 points, grabbed three rebounds and stole three passes. Rodney McGruder finished with 15 points and eight rebounds. Jamar Samuels came off the bench to add 12 points and eight rebounds.

All three had big nights, but seemingly everyone on the roster helped out inside. Freddy Asprilla and Pullen had seven and six rebounds, respectively, and the Wildcats outmuscled the Cougars and outrebounded them 45-33.

"We wanted to really torture them inside," Pullen said. "I think we did a great job of dominating the glass. Offensively, we couldn't have asked our bigs to do much more."

The Wildcats figured out they could win the battle inside early, and once they realized what was working they continued attack. At halftime, they held a 30-22 lead largely because they outrebounded Washington State 24-14 in that time frame.

Kelly was the first to establish an inside presence. The senior forward scored K-State's first seven points, and was active in all phases of the game. It appears he has put the problems that landed him on the bench earlier this season firmly behind him.

"I'm just trying to do my job," Kelly said.

His strong start gave the Wildcats a 7-2 lead, but that didn't last long. The Cougars answered right back with an 8-0 run of their own to get the home crowd into things. It looked like both teams would go back and forth for some time, but K-State went on a 9-0 run to take a lead it would cling to until 2 minutes, 34 seconds remaining.

Washington State methodically chipped away at the defecit, and the Wildcats needed a strong defensive effort out of McGruder and Pullen to hold it off as long as they did.

Pullen hounded top Washington State scorer Klay Thompson throughout the game, and repeatedly got in his way to take charges and swipe the ball away as he drove to the basket. McGruder, who made back-to-back clutch three-pointers in the second half when the game was getting close, also matched up against him and held his own.

Though Thompson finished with 16 points, he made five of 15 shots from the floor. That, in large part, made sure the game was a low-scoring affair.

"Klay struggled to make shots," Pullen said. "I didn't make shots. It just really made the game a lot more of a battle. Other people had to step up and make plays."

For K-State, there was plenty of credit to go around. When DeAngelo Casto made a lay up to give the Cougars a 54-53 lead with 2:34 to go, and the crowd was at its loudest, it was in a tough spot.

"I got a little nervous at that point," Kelly said. "I'm not going to lie. We hadn't been in that situation in a while. A long, long while. Not since Xavier (in the Sweet 16) last year, I think. It was a little crazy at first."

But that's when the Wildcats showed their toughness. Samuels tied the score with a free throw, Pullen hit Kelly for the go-ahead layup in transition and Samuels made a one-handed shot to put K-State back ahead

Some teams would have been in the clear by then, but not the Wildcats. They have struggled mightily from the free-throw line all season. In order to beat the Cougars they had to finally make a few.

Casto quickly cut the score to 58-56, and with 16 seconds remaining the pressure was on. Freshman guard Will Spradling took a pass in the backcourt and was immediately fouled. He sank both free throws.

"He's got tremendous courage and he's going to make free throws," said Martin of Spradling. "Him being fouled, I was never worried."

Then Pullen made three of four free throws to clinch the game.

It wasn't pretty at times, but for K-State, it was a valuable experience.

"You don't learn that unless you go through it," Martin said. "Now we've been through it. We're going to be a better team for it."

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