Kansas State University

Wildcats scratch by Tigers

MANHATTAN — There were physical plays, turnovers and enough missed shots to make everyone in Bramlage Coliseum grown on Saturday night.

But Kansas State emerged from the 63-53 slugfest with Missouri victorious, and that was enough. The Wildcats have never been big on style points.

"It was a hard-fought game, and our guys never once lost focus," K-State coach Frank Martin said. "When teams do that in a big game, you've got to be proud of them."

With the fantastic opportunities sitting in front of the Wildcats, how could Martin feel anything but satisfied?

The victory allowed sixth-ranked K-State (24-4, 11-3 Big 12) to take a big step toward securing at least the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 Tournament, and keep its hopes of sharing a regular-season Big 12 championship with No. 1 Kansas (27-2, 13-1) alive.

A trip to Allen Fieldhouse on Wednesday is next, and a win there will put tremendous meaning on the Wildcats' season-finale against Iowa State. In that scenario, a win combined with a third consecutive loss from Kansas (at Missouri) would give K-State claim to its share of the trophy.

Martin and his players watched the Jayhawks fall to Oklahoma State earlier in the day, and viewed No. 2 Kentucky's loss to Tennessee as well. The Wildcats knew everything that was on the line before their game with Missouri started, and for that reason Martin labeled the showdown the biggest game he'd been a part of at K-State.

He said there was no reason to downplay its significance.

"They've put themselves in the same conversation with those teams," Martin said. "So they're going to pay attention."

Guard Jacob Pullen was also amped up, saying that avenging a loss at the beginning of Big 12 play was a motivating factor.

Added up, perhaps that was too much for K-State to think about early on. The Wildcats began out of sync and unable to find the basket. Or perhaps both teams were simply going too hard at the beginning.

At the first media timeout, Missouri (21-8, 9-5) held a 7-5 lead, and neither team added much to that total for the next few minutes. With 7:30 remaining in the first half, Missouri led 16-8 and K-State had missed all but two of its 20 shots. At one point it missed 18 straight.

The Tigers built a 23-13 advantage when Keith Ramsey sank two free throws.

From then on, K-State found a bit of an offensive groove. It still struggled to score at its normal, high-paced clip, but a 10-0 run at the end of the first half tied things at 23-23.

"We knew we weren't making shots, but we knew we had to make stops," said Pullen, who scored 11 points. "As a team we did a great job of not bailing out on our defense. Usually when teams aren't scoring the ball they just bail out on defense and crumble. We realized our defense was the only way we were going to get back in it."

That defense forced 17 Missouri turnovers, which the Wildcats turned into 21 points. That, and their ability to get to the free-throw line 34 times compared to Missouri's 13, was how K-State won.

Still, K-State had to be pleased with the halftime score considering it went 6 of 32 in the first half. Helping matters was Missouri's 9-of-32 performance.

Scoring was still at a premium in the second half, but the Wildcats separated themselves with a 19-8 run. Denis Clemente did most of the damage during that span, banking in a floater and sinking a three-pointer on back-to-back possessions, but Jamar Samuels also contributed seven points.

"We started hitting shots in the second half," said Samuels, who led all scorers with 14 points. "Now it looks like we're a second-half team. I have no problem with that. We just came out strong."

K-State led 42-31 and controlled the game from there.

Missouri got within five points in the final two minutes, but the Wildcats made enough free throws to hold on. But neither team shot well. K-State ended the game making 33.9 percent from the field, and Missouri shot 31.7 percent.

Kim English scored 13 points to lead Missouri, while Clemente chipped in 11 for K-State and Curtis Kelly scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Martin felt K-State took advantage of Missouri's small lineup. That's something it didn't do the first time around.

"Today our bigs worked," Martin said, "and they were rewarded."

The rewards only get bigger from here.

"This could be our chance to make a push for the Big 12 championship," Pullen said. "We get to go to KU and give them a challenge on Wednesday. We have our destiny in our hands. We're controlling it right now."