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.
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.