Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade have led Kansas State to some memorable victories over the years, but this will rank right up there with any of them.
K-State’s three seniors paved the way for a 74-67 win against the Kansas Jayhawks on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum, and it clearly meant the world to them, their teammates and their fans.
Students camped out all day to get front-row seats for this game and the home crowd was electric all night. When it was over, the place went bonkers. Fans rushed the floor.
“This is just unbelievable,” Stokes said. “Rivalry game at home, our first time doing that, and it’s our senior year. We went out with a bang.”
Basketball wins over KU have been hard to come by in Manhattan. This was the first time K-State’s senior class had triumphed over their cross-state rivals, ending a streak of eight straight losses that dated back to the year they arrived on campus and began building the program into the NCAA Tournament regular and Big 12 contender it is today.
“It means a lot,” Wade said. “Me being from Kansas and watching the rivalry, it’s been pretty one sided for the majority of time. It feels good for all the K-State fans who support us through everything to come out and play well and get a win against those guys. It makes everyone feel good. It makes me feel good. It was great for us.”
This certainly felt like a watershed moment for these Wildcats.
K-State (17-5, 7-2 Big 12) is now in sole possession of first place in the conference and in excellent position to dethrone Kansas (17-6, 6-4) as league champion after a 14-year run of winning at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season title.
The Wildcats got here with a mixture of big plays, timely shots, toughness, defense … and a windmill dunk from Cartier Diarra.
Brown led all scorers with 18 points, Wade thwarted KU’s zone defense with several key jumpers on his way to 12 points and Stokes got the Wildcats off to a blistering start by scoring the game’s first five points, but it was Diarra who ended things.
The sophomore guard clinched the game by stealing a pass on the wing and running down court for a windmill dunk in the final minute that gave the Wildcats a 69-61 lead and sent the home crowd into a frenzy. He was so open on the play that he thought about trying an under-the-legs slam.
“It was an exclamation point,” Diarra said.
That highlight will live on in pregame videos at Bramlage Coliseum for years to come.
K-State players began pounding their chests and pointing to the student section in celebration. They knew they were going to win. They had finally beaten the Jayhawks.
It wasn’t easy.
The Jayhawks led 33-30 at halftime and appeared in control behind an effective zone defense. The Wildcats had to fight back behind their seniors.
Brown and Wade led the way by scoring all of K-State’s points early in the second half and guiding K-State to a 14-5 run and a 44-38 lead. The Wildcats never looked back.
Dedric Lawson led the Jayhawks with 18 points and Devon Dotson added 13, but K-State’s defense was too strong to surrender the lead. The Wildcats forced the Jayhawks into 23 turnovers and scored 22 points off of them.
K-State coach Bruce Weber looked like a proud father when he came across those numbers on the stat sheet.
“It was awful,” KU coach Bill Self said of his team’s offense. “Certainly we have had other awful offense days, but this ranks up there with one of the best in that regard. Give them credit. Their defense was so much better than our offense it was comical.”
K-State used that advantage to control the second half and eventually pull away. Self even waved a white flag and subbed in reserves in the final minutes.
That was a big difference from the first half, which was quite the roller-coaster ride for K-State.
Let’s start with the highs. The Wildcats got off to a dream start when Stokes opened the game with five straight points and Wade followed with a three. K-State jumped off to an 8-1 lead and had forced the Jayhawks into turnovers on their first two possessions.
Even when KU players held onto the ball, it was difficult for them to find open looks. The Jayhawks seemed discombobulated, and Self had to call timeout 3 minutes, 30 seconds into the game.
It’s rare for K-State to assert itself in the early going against its cross-state rival, especially at home, but the Wildcats were the superior team at the start of this game.
“We had a great start,” Weber said. “The last few years, they have gotten on us right away and we have always had to catch up. We have made a game of it, but when you have to catch up like that it made it hard. That is normally the part of the game they dominate.”
Other than two quick fouls against starting center Makol Mawien, it was an ideal start for the Wildcats. Momentum was on their side, and the home crowd was roaring. K-State stayed on top for much of the first half and took its biggest lead at 19-10. But the Jayhawks made an adjustment on defense that turned the tide in their favor.
The most notable shift occurred during the final 10 minutes of the first half. The Wildcats led 26-18 with 10:01 remaining and then closed the half on a 15-4 run thanks to a 2-3 zone defense.
K-State has struggled mightily against zone this season, and it once again went on a scoring drought in the face of it here. With the Jayhawks packing defenders in the paint, the Wildcats missed 12 straight shots and didn’t make another field goal until Mike McGuirl drained a corner three with 41 seconds remaining.
Weber made some adjustments at halftime, telling his players that they would beat KU with a good 20 minutes. The Wildcats started hitting shots and the went on to win.
K-State is now in control of its destiny in the Big 12. And, for the first time, its seniors can say they have a winning streak over Kansas.
“It’s a big-time win for us,” Brown said. “It’s a game we knew we wanted to win, not just for the seniors but for our fans.”