K-State men’s basketball to face Cincinnati in first round

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Senior forward Wesley Iwundu lays up the ball during the basketball game between K-State and Baylor in the Big 12 men's basketball championship in the Sprint Center on March 9, 2017. The Wildcats beat the Bears 70-64. (File Photo by Emily Starkey | The Collegian)

Although the NCAA Tournament just started Tuesday, Kansas State has been playing win-and-you’re-in games for weeks.

The Wildcats men’s basketball team found their backs against the wall and their NCAA Tournament hopes fading after a 30-point blowout loss to then-last place Oklahoma. After that game the Wildcats’ remaining regular season and Big 12 Championship games became win-at-all-cost contests.

The Wildcats won those final two regular season games and upset Baylor in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Championship before falling to West Virginia in the semi-finals. The wins were enough for the Wildcats to get in the Big Dance. Their reward was another win or go home game against Wake Forest in the First Four play-in game.

K-State again showed some resilience, beating Wake Forest. They will now take on the No. 6 seed Cincinnati Bearcats tonight in Sacramento, California.

The Wildcats’ victory over Wake Forest to get to the first round was a foul-filled offensive showdown. K-State took down the Demon Deacons 95-88 after pulling away down the stretch and sinking some free throws to seal the victory.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled for these guys,” head coach Bruce Weber said to media after the game. “They’ve persevered. They’ve believed. They’ve kept the faith and now we get to move on to Sacramento.”

Senior forward Wesley Iwundu was huge for the Cats. Iwundu took over at times and willed the Wildcats to victory. The veteran finished with a career-high 24 points to go along with seven assists and six rebounds. Iwundu was incredibly efficient scoring the ball, he finished six of nine from the field and 11 of 13 from the free-throw line.

“At this time of the season, it’s March, good players got to step up and make plays,” Iwundu said. “And I took it upon myself. D.J. (Johnson), Kamau (Stokes), there’s a lot of versatility in this game from all the players. We all contributed to this win. But you know, good players step up and make plays and that was the case here.”

Iwundu and the rest of the Cats will need another big game against Cincinnati (29-5, 16-2). The Bearcats are coming into the game on a loss in the AAC Championship game to SMU; before that loss they won seven out of their last eight games.

Sophomore guard Jacob Evans and junior forward Kyle Washington lead the Bearcats. Evans averages 13.7 points per game and Washington averages 13.1 points a game to go along with 6.9 rebounds a game.

The winner of the game will advance to take on the winner of UCLA and Kent State on Sunday.

The Wildcats and Bearcats will tip off at 6:27 p.m. at the Golden One Center. The game can be seen on TruTV.

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