AUSTIN, Texas – Denis Clemente couldn’t be flustered – for that matter, neither could his teammates.
Clemente displayed an eye-opening individual performance as the K-State guard scored 36 of his career-high 44 points in the final 25 minutes of action Saturday to lead the Wildcats past No. 11 Texas 85-81 in an overtime thriller at the Erwin Center.
It was a game about toughness – about the players taking on the collective identity of its coach — Frank Martin. It was about a team overcoming the loss of a 17-point lead with less than eight minutes remaining in the game and still finding a way to win in an arena in which the Longhorns had won 19 games straight and 100 of their last 106 games.
“I’m so proud of our kids – I couldn’t be prouder,” K-State coach Frank Martin said. “The way that they’ve stayed the course and continued believing in each other. I’m so proud of them for continuing to fight and fight and continuing to compete with each other at practice and continue to grow up in games.”
The Wildcats controlled the game for almost the entirety of the evening, only to see the Longhorns outscore K-State 30-13 over the final 7:56 of the game and send the game to overtime on a Justin Mason layup with 6.7 seconds remaining in the second half.
But the Wildcats weren’t rattled by an energized crowd of 16,727 — especially K-State guard Fred Brown.
Brown pulled up in front of Damion James to knock down a pivotal 3-pointer from the wing with the game tied at 79 and the shot clock at six seconds to give the Wildcats an 82-79 overtime lead with 18 seconds remaining.
The Longhorns eventually trimmed the deficit to 83-81 on a Dogus Balbay free throw, but it was once again Clemente who would step up.
Clemente was fouled with 6.9 seconds remaining and calmly sank two free throws to seal the game while tying Michael Beasley’s individual Big 12 record for most points scored in a game during the 13-year existence of the conference.
“I was feeling good today and everything dropped tonight,” Clemente said. “I used my speed and I think I am faster than anybody — that’s how I feel.”
The junior guard stepped up big all through the night, making 13 of his 26 shots in the game, while knocking down six of his seven 3-point attempts and finished the game 12-12 from the free throw line.
“Denis is a heck of a player,” Martin said. “He’s been making the adjustment after transferring and sitting out last year – that’s not easy.
“I’m so proud of him because he’s taken this team like he should – because he’s are most experienced player. He’s taken this team by the horns here — and just led us. Especially after the tough times, his personality has taken over our team.”
The Wildcats scored more points than had been previously scored against Texas all year; Texas came into Saturday only allowing 61.6 points per game.
K-State hit 10 of its 15 3-point attempts while making 23-35 from the free throw line and shooting 38.2 percent overall from the floor.
Meanwhile, the K-State defense limited Longhorn star A.J. Abrams to just 15 points on 5-21 shooting while forcing 20 Texas turnovers, 13 of which coming in the first half as the Wildcats built a 32-22 halftime lead.
Texas coach Rick Barnes said it was a disappointing loss for his team.
“I think you’ve gotta give Kansas State credit,” Barnes said. “Denis Clemente was as good as we’ve played against all year today. Every time that we were able to get back into it and they needed a big play – they made it. They played really hard.”
Fred Brown said after the game the Wildcats can no longer be taken lightly.
“I think this game showed that we’re a team to reckon with in the Big 12,” he said.