Once again, the Kansas State men’s basketball team was challenged with a situation that could have made it crumble.
And again, the Wildcat prevailed.
(Kansas State freshman Marcus Foster shoots over Oklahoma State’s Brian Williams on Saturday afternoon at Bramlage Coliseum. Foster finished with a team-high 17 points and eight rebounds in the Wildcats’ 74-71 victory over the sixth-ranked Cowboys).
Trailing 60-57, unable to catch a break, the Wildcats turned in an 8-0 run to top No. 6-ranked Oklahoma State 74-71 at Bramlage Coliseum. It was the second straight season that saw K-State (11-3) upset the Cowboys to open Big 12 Conference play.
The Wildcats started the run by sneaking a pass in from Marcus Foster to Thomas Gipson, who made his first basket of the game to tie the game to cut the lead to 60-59. Shane Southwell made a pair of free throws and then Gipson put back a Foster miss to go ahead 63-60.
K-State coach Bruce Weber thought the pass from Foster to Gipson that opened the run was one of the key plays, and showed how far Foster, who led the Wildcats with 17 points, has come in other areas of his game.
“It was a gut check part of the game, (Foster) came up ball screen, hit Gipson for the layup,” he said. “Those are passes he probably wouldn’t have made earlier in the season.”
Foster said he knew he could make the play when Weber called it, recalling making a mistake in the play in practice.
“We ran that play in practice and I remember I made a bad pass to Gip, and Gip told me just take that one dribble and he’s going to be there,” he said. “In the back of my head, when coach drew up the play, I knew I could get his man to come and I could hit Gip on the drop down.”
Oklahoma State (12-2) star Marcus Smart missed a pair of free throws and then the Wildcats got a layup from Foster to take their biggest lead of the game, 65-60.
The Cowboys came back of course, pulling within one after two quick baskets, but Thomas made another basket to score his career-high eighth points and Gipson answered a Le-Bryan Nash basket to keep the lead at three with 1:46 to play.
The Wildcats had a chance to put the game away on a Southwell shot with less than 40 seconds to play, but his 3-pointer missed, and he fouled Nash trying to get his own rebound.
After Nash pulled it back within one, Gipson made two free throws and Nino Williams added another to put K-State up by four. Phil Forte cut it to one for the Cowboys with a 3, but Williams made two free throws with five seconds left, and Smart’s last second shot from long range missed.
Along with Foster’s 17, Williams had 15 and Gipson had 10 points and 11 rebounds. Three K-State freshmen — Foster, Wesley Iwundu and Jevon Thomas — combined for 36 points.
“(They’re) talented, tough,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said of K-State’s freshmen. “We’ve watched film on them so it wasn’t a surprise. They’re tough minded, they’ve got game and I was impressed. Foster, he had 17, he earned them.”
The Cowboys got 20 points out of Nash, while Markel Brown scored 16, Smart had 15 and Forte had 14.
On paper, it was supposed to be K-State’s defense against Oklahoma State’s trio of NBA hopefuls, led by one of the top pro prospects in Smart. The matchup didn’t disappoint.
From the get-go, it was a grind it out contest with both teams dishing lefts and rights, countering each others punches with neither team ever falling behind more than five points.
The Cowboys opened the game with a 5-0 lead, and never managed to push it out any more than that. The Wildcats came right back, and tied the game at 7, and both teams grinded it out until the Cowboys found a little distance with a 25-21 lead with 5:48 left in the half.
K-State never went away though, eventually reclaiming the lead with a layup and a free throw from Williams, who scored 10 of his 15 in the first half.
Williams also came up big for the Wildcats in this game last season, scoring his career-high 17 against the Cowboys.
“I just feel like I’m going to get a chance to play, get a chance to prove myself against them,” Williams said. “I think they kind of respect me now because every time we play them I play well.”
Thomas gave the Wildcats the lead on a basket with five seconds left in the half, but Brown drove the length of the floor to push Oklahoma State ahead 38-37 at the half, and let the packed Bramlage crowd know what he thought of them on his way to the locker room.
The Cowboys looked to create some distance early in the second half, pulling ahead by four. But Smart and Nash picked up their third fouls on back-to-back possessions and then Smart picked up his fourth on a technical foul on a slam dunk that ended with him pulling himself up on the rim to emphatically slap the backboard.
Ford said the technical foul was a trend that affected the team all game long.
“A couple tough calls, not bad calls, but getting certain calls,” he said. “Certain things happened at certain times that just weren’t timely for us in a tight game like that, that you need, but they got. Give them credit, we just didn’t make very good decisions.”
Despite the loss of their star, the Cowboys managed to keep playing well, and held their own against the Wildcats.
“When you lose one of the top players in the country, it becomes a little more difficult, no question,” Ford said. “Not the perfect scenario when you’re already hurting for depth. I thought we held our own, I mean we had the lead. Not what you hope for. I thought the guys held the fort down.”
The Wildcats narrowly won the rebounding battle 38-37, and committed just eight turnovers and finished with six steals. K-State shot just 36 percent from the field, and missed numerous baskets in the paint.
Gipson said the Wildcats will have games like that this season due to their defensive mindset, but said they would have had chances to stretch out a lead if they shored up a few mistakes in the first half.
“We focus heavy on our defense,” he said. “One of the main things that was our problem in this game was our help rotation. We take some of those dunks away, we would have won this game by six or eight points. We played hard and we gutted it out.”
It was just the 12th win over a Top 10-ranked team inside Bramlage, and the first since the Wildcats beat Missouri to open conference play in the 2011-12 season.
K-State nine-game winning streak is the longest since a 10-game streak in the 2009-10 season.
The Wildcats will go on the road for their first true road game of the season on Tuesday, playing at TCU.