Manhattan — It took four years for the Kansas State senior class to grab a win over in-state rival Kansas. But now that they have, the Wildcats have something much more valuable in their possession — a 2-game lead over the Jayhawks in the loss column in the Big 12 standings.
That reality came to light Tuesday night inside wild and rocking Bramlage Coliseum, where the Wildcats raced out to a fast start, slipped in the mud in the middle and then ran away from the 13th-ranked Jayhawks in the second half, 74-67, behind a 44-34 second-half advantage.
Kansas (17-6 overall, 6-4 Big 12) is now just 1-6 in true road games this season and still has four games away from home on its schedule before the end of the regular season.
Although the Wildcats controlled the entire second half, it was not until Xavier Sneed (14 points on 3-of-6 from 3-point range) drained a clutch 3 from the corner that K-State could breathe easy.
Sneed’s bucket, with 1:09 to play, put the Wildcats back up by 6 after Kansas had cut the lead to a single possession and a Cartier Diarra steal and windmill slam dunk — on KU’s 22nd turnover of the night — proved to be the exclamation point on a huge effort by the home team.
"Their defense was so much better than our offense it was comical," KU coach Bill Self said.
Fans rejoiced. Ushers braced for a court-storming, which came with fury. And the building affectionately known to locals as the Octagon of Doom again had that feel for the Jayhawks, who have lost in Bramlage just five times in 31 tries.
In what was a physical battle littered with Kansas turnovers (23) and key Kansas State transition points, the Jayhawks stayed tight and trailed by just 2 — 58-56 — with just under 5 minutes to play.
But K-State responded to a layup by Dedric Lawson (18 points, 9 rebounds) at 4:44 with 5 quick points to build a 63-56 lead with 3:52 to play. That lead grew to 8 when Wade hit one of two of free throws — K-State made just 14 of 24 from the line on the night — and the Jayhawks could not find the juice for one final push.
View a gallery of images from Tuesday night's game between the Jayhawks and the Wildcats at Bramlage Coliseum.
"Coach just said, 'Those guys played hard tonight. They outplayed us. They stuck together and came out with the win,'" Moore said after the loss.
In many ways, the Jayhawks lost this one in the first half, both by suffering through a brutal start and by not building a bigger lead by halftime when they had the chance.
After winning the tip, the Jayhawks gave Bramlage Coliseum the fuel it needed to go nuts when freshman guard Ochai Agbaji (6 points on 3-of-7 shooting) lost track of the sideline on KU’s first possession and stepped out of bounds.
That led to a 3-pointer by KSU senior Kamau Stokes, who quickly made it 5-0 K-State with a steal and layup on KU’s next possession.
"You've got to give those guys credit," Lawson said. "They played great defense."
Even when KU made a play, K-State benefited. After the Jayhawks had settled in a bit and cut the KSU lead to 10-6, Devon Dotson’s block of a Stokes 3-pointer attempt made its way into the hands of Sneed (14 points, 3 3-pointers), who calmly laid it in for a 12-6 lead.
On the very next possession, the Jayhawks turned it over for the third time and Barry Brown Jr. (18 points in 40 minutes), put the Wildcats up 14-6 with a fastbreak layup.
Shortly after the Jayhawks’ found themselves in that big hole, Self inserted Mitch Lightfoot and Charlie Moore into the game and switched to a 2-3 zone on defense.
Sneed drained a 3-pointer on the Jayhawks’ first possession of zone to put KU up 17-8, but, from there, the Wildcats struggled to find ways to attack it and KU crawled back to within 19-16 at the 11:45 mark of the first half.
“Kansas is looking like Syracuse in this 2-3 zone,” ESPN analyst and former NBA head coach Stan Van Gundy said during Tuesday’s broadcast.
Seven minutes after KU got back into it, the Jayhawks took their first lead of the game — 29-26 — on one of 2 first-half 3-pointers from reserve guard Moore.
The Jayhawks used a 15-1 run to claim the lead and led by as many as 5 late in the first half before taking a 33-30 lead to the locker room. Kansas State made just 1 of its final 14 shots of the half and turned it over 8 times against that KU zone.
"That 2-3 zone kind of slowed those guys down and in the second half they made some adjustments and made us go back to man," Lawson said. "They just made shots."
One of the biggest reasons the Jayhawks had the lead at the break was their work on the offensive glass. The Jayhawks entered Tuesday averaging just 10 offensive rebounds per game and grabbed 8 in the first half alone. Three of those came from Lightfoot, who finished the half with 6 points and 5 rebounds to pace Kansas, both on the stat sheet and in the hustle department.
Kansas finished with just 11 offensive rebounds for the game.
Four different Jayhawks had 6 points at the break and Lawson led the way with 7, despite his 1-of-6 shooting effort in the first 20 minutes.
Senior Lagerald Vick, who started the 2018-19 season with such promise only to fall into a mighty slump of late, played just 4 minutes in the first half, did not start the second half and finished with 7 points on 2-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes for the game.
Asked after Tuesday's loss if Vick's lack of production was the reason for his benching both in the first half and to start the second, Self said simply, "No. There (were) other reasons."
Whatever momentum the Jayhawks had wrestled away from the Wildcats in the final minutes of the first half, quickly disappeared to start the second.
Quentin Grimes’ opened the half with a traveling violation and Kansas State responded with a 13-5 run that included 7 straight points from Brown to rebuild a 43-38 lead with 14:29 to play.
With the Jayhawks still struggling to get quality possessions on offense, the Wildcats continued to build their lead. A 3-pointer from Sneed from in front of the KSU bench pushed the K-State lead to 47-40 with 12:30 to play and another 3-pointer from Cartier Diarra, 30 seconds later, pushed the KSU lead to 50-42.
The Wildcats (17-5, 7-2) hit 8 their first 18 3-pointers in this one (10 of 24 on the night) and all of their makes from distance carried big momentum with them.
Beyond that, Kansas, which made 4-of-10 from 3-point range in the first half, missed its first 6 triples in the second half as what seemed like a bit of fool’s gold from Charlie Moore (8 points, 3-of-5) and Quentin Grimes (6, 2-4) in the first 20 minutes turned into gravel in the decisive second half.
The second half also featured a change in philosophy for the Wildcats, who moved star forward Dean Wade — just 1 of 6 in the first half — closer to the rim in the second, forcing Dedric Lawson to guard him in the post.
Wade finished the game with 12 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists, with all but 2 of his points coming in the second half.
Kansas returns to action at 11 a.m. Saturday, back at Allen Fieldhouse, where it will welcome Oklahoma State to town before going back out on the road for two of its next three games, at TCU and at Texas Tech.
"No. We ain't even worried about that," Lawson said. "We're just worried about getting better. We're just worried about winning the game Saturday. Take it one game at a time."