Tyshawn Taylor dislocated a finger, had it popped back in place and never missed a second of action. Jeff Withey walked into the postgame media room, scratches visible across his arms. Jamar Samuels stepped up to the podium noticeably upset.
Kansas and Kansas State had just played a big-boy game — 40 minutes of physical basketball intended for grown men. The difference being KU’s grown men are more experienced, and largely because of that, the fourth-ranked Jayhawks were able to hold on, defeating the Wildcats 59-53 on Monday night in Bramlage Coliseum.
“When the game got dicey, all of a sudden Kansas got on that glass and I had guys telling me ‘well I’m getting pushed,’” K-State coach Frank Martin said. “Don’t say that. Give Kansas credit, they’ve got big boys playing. I don’t mean in size, I mean in age and maturity.”
Both teams gave it everything that had, but ultimately the game boiled down to a couple of things: K-State missed some open shots it needed to make, and the Jayhawks, who outscored K-State 14-2 in fast-break points, had some bounces go their way that led to those easy transition points.
“We were fortunate tonight,” KU head coach Bill Self said. “We had some fortunate possessions where it looked like they’d have two (points) and we’d get a dunk at the other end. Or it looks like they’re going to get the rebound and we end up making a 3 at the end of the clock. There were several things that happened that we were pretty fortunate with.”
K-State made 7-of-31 from the floor in the first half, digging itself into a 28-18 hole at halftime. But the Wildcats climbed out of it, going on a 19-8 run to begin the second half to take a 37-36 lead.
With all the momentum on K-State’s side, it was Tyshawn Taylor, one of those grown men for KU, who made the biggest plays of the night.
With 7 seconds left on the shot clock, the senior point guard retreated past half court to retrieve an inbounds pass that went through his hands, then rushed up the court, knocked K-State’s Angel Rodriguez to the floor and buried a 3 from the top of the key as the shot clock expired to give KU the lead.
Taylor hit another 3 with 7 seconds on the shot clock on the ensuing possession to give KU a 42-37 lead while silencing the K-State crowd.
“Self-destructed, it’s what happens to us,” Martin said. “Our immaturity, that’s the difference. When you’ve got grown men playing for you it makes our guys look like little kids in those moments. They’ve got seven seconds on the shot clock, they throw the inbounds pass, it’s fumbled, it ends up in the backcourt. There are times to try and take a charge, there are times not to do it. That’s not the time to do it. Angel tries to flop on a charge, Tyshawn looks at him and says thanks for making my job easy, sticks a 3, then comes down, sticks another 3.”
Self said the Jayhawks were in scramble mode up until Taylor hit the pair of 3s.
“We didn’t have anything good going for the most part and they had totally whipped us in the second half for the first 10 minutes,” he said. “One of them was a broken-floor, lucky play, and he made one right after that. That gave us a little bit of a cushion. Those were huge at that moment.”
KU eventually built a 47-37 lead, with Taylor scoring eight points during the Jayhawks’ 11-0 run.
“You go from up one, then they got total control of the game,” Martin said. “But that’s not on the kids, that’s on us coaches. We have to better prepare our guys to handle those situations better. Those are mistakes they make as kids, it’s up to us to get them to handle that better.”
K-State would get to within four with 1:15 remaining, and had its fair share of chances down the stretch. Taylor missed two front-ends of one-and-one situations at the foul line in the final 1:03 and was whistled for a travel with 41 seconds left. In all, the Wildcats had three possessions during that time to cut into KU’s four-point lead, but they never took advantage, failing to score on any of the opportunities they had.
The Wildcats, who were outrebounded by 24 in the loss at Lawrence earlier this season, got after it on the glass, getting 45 boards to KU’s 39. K-State recorded 21 offensive rebounds overall while KU had 12, but the Jayhawks still outscored the Wildcats by one on second-chance points.
For the most part, it looked like K-State re-established the identity against KU that it has created during the Martin era. The Wildcats got after it, holding the Jayhawks to less than 40 percent from the floor while turning them over 14 times.
K-State tried, but sometimes that’s not enough. And on Monday night, it wasn’t.
“We played hard, we tried, we lost,” Martin said.