Kansas State University

K-State finds ways to survive on road

MANHATTAN — For Jacob Pullen, nothing beats playing in front of 12,528 friendly faces at Bramlage Coliseum.

The game-day experience is a major reason why he signed with No. 6 Kansas State out of high school, and has been a factor in the junior guard's successes since arriving.

But this season, he has also come to appreciate the settings of other arenas.

"I actually think we play well on the road," Pullen said.

Riding a five-game road winning streak, it's easy to see why. With Saturday's victory at Oklahoma, K-State improved its Big 12 road record to 5-1. It lost its first game at Missouri, but has been perfect away from home since.

That success has assured the Wildcats of a winning road record in the conference for the first time since the 1987-88 season.

"We really focus in," Pullen said. "We know we have no crowd, no fans there to support us. We're really in tune and focused on eliminating everything they do."

There are other reasons, including a road schedule that has featured the four worst teams in the Big 12 — Nebraska, Colorado, Iowa State and Oklahoma. No. 24 Baylor is the only team with a winning league record that K-State has defeated on the road.

But Oklahoma and Colorado have beaten their fair share of teams at home this season. Attitude is a reason why K-State didn't join that group. Players seemingly carry more intensity than they do at home.

At Bramlage, they can often be seen living up the atmosphere. On the road, where all that love is aimed at another group, they carry a more business-like approach.

"You could tell they were a very, very confident team," OU coach Jeff Capel said after Saturday's loss to the Cats. "You could tell they are a very tough team. Toughness is not pounding your chest or just physical things, they have mental toughness."

That mental toughness means never feeling comfortable.

Some players and coaches admit to going by an old formula that usually means success in conference play: win all your home games and half your road games and your team will have a shot at winning your league.

K-State coach Frank Martin is far too stubborn and consistent to think in those terms.

"We try to focus in one game at a time, whether we're at home or on the road," Martin said. "We don't differentiate making it more difficult than one place or the other. We just try to focus in our energies to go win that next one."

That mindset clearly rubbed off on his players at Oklahoma. Having just finished the first half on a nice spurt to take a 35-33 lead, senior guard Denis Clemente was anything but satisfied.

As both teams walked up the tunnel to their locker rooms, Clemente loudly told his teammates they needed to play better in the second half if they wanted to leave with a win.

Capel could hear Clemente from across the tunnel. That's something he hadn't witnessed before.

"I hear somebody yelling and when I turned around it was Clemente," Capel said. "He's yelling at his team, 'We can play better.' It was refreshing to see someone who has passion.

"They certainly have a swagger, they have a confidence and they have toughness. It's a testament to Frank and the team they've developed there."