There wasn’t an empty seat to be found inside Bramlage Coliseum on Saturday. Not for a basketball game, and moment, like this. It was the type of crowd that usually only shows up for a rival or a No. 1 ranked opponent, only louder. Even with spring break underway and a large number of students out of town, K-State fans packed the place and created a championship-level atmosphere.
Then they celebrated a Big 12 title.
K-State won a share of its first conference championship since 2013, and its second since 1977, by defeating Oklahoma 68-53 in a game that felt more like a coronation than a pressure-packed grinder.
“Right now I am pretty much speechless,” K-State senior guard Kamau Stokes said after scoring a game-high 19 points. “I have been dreaming of this moment my whole life. It means everything to me.”
The Wildcats weren’t going to be denied a trophy on senior day. No way. Not after all they have been through this season. They didn’t give in when they started the Big 12 season 0-2 without starting point guard Stokes or star forward Dean Wade, they didn’t surrender when they trailed West Virginia by 21 and they didn’t hang their heads when key reserve Cartier Diarra missed the final eight games with a broken finger.
They fought through adversity and rattled off 14 victories over 16 games to dethrone longtime conference kingpin Kansas and tie Texas Tech for the Big 12 title.
Things were no different here. K-State took command after the opening minutes and took care of business against Oklahoma the way a championship team should.
“It was an amazing experience,” Wade said. “The place was rocking tonight. I can’t say thanks enough to the fans. It’s been an amazing journey. I can’t even explain it, how far we have come.”
The Wildcats hammered the Sooners behind 19 points from Stokes, 15 points from Barry Brown and 11 more from Wade.
K-State’s three seniors went out in style. They deserved this moment after all the work they put in together for four years. The Wildcats were in rebuilding mode when they arrived, fresh off a 15-17 season with major roster turnover that had many calling for Bruce Weber’s job. He hit the reset button and they made K-State basketball relevant again.
They got to wear Big 12 championship hats and T-shirts when this game went final. Then they cut down the nets.
“We came a long way,” Brown said. “From going 5-13 (in conference play) my freshman year to now. We really tried to turn this thing around. We put in a lot of work and a lot of hours. We were able to do it.”
Weber soaked it all in. He didn’t celebrate at first, choosing to stand back and watch his players dance on the confetti-covered court. Eventually, he went over to the student section and came close to body surfing. This was his second conference championship in seven seasons with the Wildcats, but his first since his inaugural year on the job. This win took him full circle.
“I am so proud of them,” Weber said. “This is the kind of thing you dream of when you grow up, to have your name up on a banner. I can’t say enough about the seniors. They have been resilient. Not only them, the entire team.”
Fans will remember many moments from the game.
Wade threw down a vicious reverse dunk in the first half and talked some trash on his way up the court. Stokes and Brown hit big three-pointers. And Xavier Sneed threw down a nasty tomahawk slam that gave the Wildcats a 58-33 lead at the 8:35 mark of the second half.
The crowd roared, knowing they were witnessing history.
K-State went on to lead by as many as 29, and the rout was on. Some wondered if Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger, a former K-State player and coach, would sneak up on the Wildcats as they played with championship pressure. But this game was never in doubt.
Bramlage Coliseum has turned into a house of horrors for Kruger. He has lost seven straight in this building, with all seven coming against Weber.
This isn’t the end for K-State (24-7, 14-4 Big 12). Even though it was the biggest basketball party they have thrown in years, they can make this season even more memorable over the next few weeks.
The Wildcats will enter the Big 12 Tournament as the No. 1 seed for the first time, thanks to conference tiebreaker procedures, and will almost certainly earn their best seed in the NCAA Tournament since their last conference championship season.
That team needed Baylor to beat Kansas on the final day of the regular season to earn its trophy and then lost in the first round of the Big Dance.
This group wants more.
With extra games like this, a Big 12 title might not be the only thing it celebrates this season.