MANHATTAN — There was Curtis Kelly, playing hard from start to finish. There was Jacob Pullen, coming up with steals and making the extra pass. There was Kansas State, thumping Nebraska 69-53 for a win at Bramlage Coliseum.
For one night, at least, everything seemed back to normal for the Wildcats.
This was the type of no nonsense, blowout victory that many expected K-State to experience on a regular basis when the season began, but have come infrequently of late. It was a confidence boost.
"It feels like we're a team," Pullen said. "We go through things together, whether it's good or bad we've got to deal with it and move forward, and overall our locker room, our morale is continuing to get better. We're continuing to believe in each other."
Some will say K-State (15-8 overall, 3-5 Big 12) simply found success against a weak opponent. Nebraska (15-6, 3-4), despite entering Wednesday's action receiving votes in the national polls, has lost every conference road game it has played.
"I didn't think we competed in any area," Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said. "We darn sure didn't compete well enough to come in here and compete with a team like Kansas State."
But the Wildcats had something to do with that. In front of a less-than-capacity crowd, they used a mixture of strong defense, smart passes and toughness to take a 31-17 halftime lead and quickly demoralize the Cornhuskers in the second half as they tried to catch up.
"It's what I expect from our guys every time out," K-State coach Frank Martin said.
Nebraska pulled within 61-50 with 4 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the second half, but no closer. Outside of a few moments early on, when K-State clung to a 13-10 lead at the 11:16 mark of the first half, the Wildcats dominated every aspect of the game.
From there K-State went on an 18-5 run and never let up. Its intensity was obvious.
"All the effort areas that are played in a ball game, they won every one of them," Sadler said. "That's why there never really was a challenge in this game."
Kelly and Pullen were the main contributors. Kelly, a senior forward, shook off a dismal performance in his last game against Kansas to score 16 points, grab four rebounds and provide a steady presence down low.
"Curt is all right," Martin said. "Curt's biggest wrestling match is with himself. He makes a mistake, he can't let go of that mistake, and it affects his demeanor, his approach, everything for a period of time. That's when I engage with him. He can't do that. He's too important."
That goes double for Pullen, a senior guard, who was effective in all areas. He scored 18 points, but his main contributions came as a distributor and defender. While leading the offense, he looked for ways to make the extra pass and picked up six assists. He also pressured Nebraska players up and down the floor to help cause 22 turnovers and sparked K-State's transition game.
Lance Jeter led Nebraska with 16 points and Jorge Brian Diaz scored 10. No other Husker scored more than six.
K-State still has plenty of areas where it can improve before heading to Iowa State for its next game on Saturday, such as finding a consistent flow in the half-court offense and converting shots near the rim.
But those are simple compared to the adversity K-State has faced over the past month.
"We've lost a couple hard-fought games, but you know what, we're a young team," Martin said. "You've got to earn the right to win those games. Our guys continue to battle. They're working their tails off to earn that right. After eight (conference) games I think we're better prepared to win games than we were in game one."