After a difficult loss to Oklahoma earlier in the season, Kansas State went into a funk, losing its next three games.
Punched in the mouth again, this time by Missouri, the Wildcats bounced right back up.
Jacob Pullen had 18 points, Denis Clemente added 14 and Kansas State rebounded from its embarrassing loss to Missouri by holding on for a hard-fought 77-72 win over Nebraska Saturday night.
“We’re not just playing basketball anymore,” said Pullen, who hit all nine of his free throws and had five assists. “We stopped playing basketball after we lost to Missouri. We’re fighting now. We’re fighting to control our own destiny.”
Kansas State (20-9, 9-6 Big 12) was embarrassed in its last meeting against Nebraska, turning it over 25 times against the Cornhuskers’ pesky defense in a 73-51 loss. The Wildcats were much more careful this time — 12 turnovers — and caused a few problems of their own with defense, scoring 21 points off 17 Nebraska turnovers to reach 20 wins in three straight seasons for the first time since 1980-82.
Darren Kent had 13 points despite spraining his ankle in the second half and Buchi Awaji added 10 points, nine rebounds and a key block in the closing seconds for the Wildcats, who would more than likely lock in an NCAA berth with wins over Oklahoma State and Colorado next week.
Not bad for a team that got run out of the gym by Missouri three days earlier.
“These kids refuse to accept to defeat,” Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know I’m going to enjoy every moment that I get to coach them because of how resourceful they are, how unwilling they are to give in.”
Nebraska (16-11, 6-8) had a good night offensively, shooting 49 percent to break the 60-point barrier for the first time in seven games. The Cornhuskers just turned it over too much and had too many defensive breakdowns, allowing more than 70 points for only the third time this season.
Ryan Anderson led Nebraska with 19 points and Ade Dagunduro added 16.
“The frustrating thing is these guys are giving me everything they’ve got and they’re not being rewarded for it with wins,” Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said. “We’ve got to find a way to get this thing going. We’re playing way too hard not to be rewarded, and eventually we’ve got to be.”
Nebraska’s NCAA tournament chances took a big hit on Tuesday, when the Cornhuskers blew an 18-point second-half lead and lost 57-55 to Texas A&M on Josh Carter’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Winning the final three games — Iowa State and Baylor close out the schedule — was probably Nebraska’s only legitimate shot at ending its 11-year NCAA tournament drought.
The Cornhuskers put themselves in position to beat the Wildcats, using their frenetic defense to turn every possession into a grind, every shot a major undertaking. They just couldn’t take care of the ball.
Nebraska, which averages a Big 12-low 11.6 turnovers per game, had five in the first five minutes and five straight in the second half while Kansas State pushed the lead to 58-52.
The Cornhuskers kept battling, though, and pulled within 69-67 on Anderson’s 3-pointer with just under 2 minutes left. Kansas State never let Nebraska get closer, hitting just enough free throws down the stretch to pull out a tough win both teams had to have.
“It’s just the same old story every game,” Sadler said. “I can’t be any prouder of this group of guys for giving it everything they’ve got. If we continue to do that, we’re going to be rewarded. It’s hard to understand right now.”