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Kansas State reverts to last season’s form, and not a second too soon

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Its said time and time again — winning on the road is not an easy thing to do in college basketball.

If you didn’t believe it yet, you got all the proof you needed on Monday night as newly No. 1 Kansas went into the Octagon of Doom and got bumrushed Kansas State, 84-68. It was the second time in three days the No. 1 team in the country lost on the road.

Kansas didn’t play their best game tonight, as The Morrii struggled against the Kansas State front line (16 points, three rebounds combined, five fouls combined) and the Jayhawks looked lost at times offensively.

But tonight wasn’t about Kansas.

It was about Kansas State.

Simply put, no one was beating the Wildcats tonight.

For the first time this season, we saw the Kansas State team that we all expected to be fighting for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They were active defensively, they were aggressive on the glass, they were diving on the floor for loose balls. It was refreshing, to be honest. Its not secret that it has been a tumultuous season for Frank Martin’s squad — rife with suspensions and players leaving the program — but there is still plenty of talent for this team to make a late run. And if there has been a silver lining to the departures of Freddy Asprilla and Wally Judge, its that kids like Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, who had 10 points, five boards, and a block tonight, have gotten a chance to play and build their confidence.

If tonight proved anything, its that this team has not quit on this season.

Kansas State’s hustle wasn’t the only aspect of the “vintage” Wildcat attack that we caught a glimpse of tonight. For the first time all season, we saw Jacob Pullen play like Jacob Pullen. The senior scored 13 points including 11 straight at one point — in a 22-6 run that opened up a 13 point lead with 10:24 left in the half. Kansas never got closer than six the rest of the way.

And Pullen?

Pullen was a long way from done. He finished the night with a career-high 38 points, with 23 of those coming before intermission. He added five assists and two steals, made 5-6 from beyond the arc, and got to the foul line 19 times, hitting 15 of them. Few of those point came easy, as Pullen was in NBA Live mode, hitting step-back jumpers and contested, pull-up threes all night long.

The importance of this game for Kansas State cannot be overstated. Coming in, the Wildcats were barely hanging in most bracket projections, which says quite a bit more about the lack of quality teams on the bubble than the success Kansas State has had this season. Coming in, the Wildcats were 0-7 against the RPI top 50. And while 1-7 is less than ideal, having than one come against the top team in the RPI makes the shoddy record much more valuable.

The key for the Wildcats from here is to build on this win. Beating Kansas in this fashion at home is not just a great win, its a great experience for those kids.

But it doesn’t erase the fact that they were one of the biggest disappointments in a season full of disappointments up until Valentine’s Day.

The Wildcats have five regular season games left — Oklahoma, at Nebraska, Missouri, at Texas, and Iowa State. They still have work to do to ensure a trip to the NCAA Tournament, although tonight’s win allows them a much bigger margin for error.

So enjoy the win tonight.

But come back ready to work tomorrow.

Because not being “ready to work” is why the Wildcats dug themselves this hole in the first place.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

No. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

Lehigh Virginia Basketball
AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

Follow Hank on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr

The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org