After trailing by as much as 17 in the second half, the Wildcats got back within three in the half, but lost to No. 2 Kansas 72-63 on Saturday night inside Bramlage Coliseum.
“Different guys pick it up for them and their bench hurt us,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “That made a big difference, but it’s disappointing we couldn’t creep out a win in the end.”
The first five minutes of the game was dominated by the whistle. There were nine fouls in that span between both the teams, including two against Wildcat freshman forward Dean Wade who sat the majority of the first half.
For the first 15 minutes, both teams went back and forth and neither team led by more than four, but the Jayhawks dominated the last five minutes of the half.
Kansas went on a 12-0 run after trailing 25-21. It was sparked after Jayhawk sophomore guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk three pointer to give the Jayhawks a 26-25 lead, which was their first lead since it was 13-12.
The Jayhawks ended the half up 39-29, but wasn’t indicative of how the first half felt.
“That stretch was the most important of the game,” Weber said. “We had too many turnovers and they took advantage of it.”
Kansas shot 19 free throws in the first half while the Wildcats only shot six in the foul frenzy of a half.
After leading by 10 at halftime, Kansas scored the first four points in the second half, but a three by Wildcats freshman guard Barry Brown cut the deficit to 43-32.
The Jayhawks responded with a three of their own by senior guard Perry Ellis to give them a 46-32 advantage.
Kansas extended their lead to 52-35, which ended up being their biggest of the game. After what looked to be an elbow to the face, Jayhawk senior forward Perry Ellis was taken out of the game with 12 minutes left after blood was rushing down his face.
“He had 12 stitches and possibly the bigger problem was he got scratched in the eye,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said. “We’ll have an eye doctor look at it closer, but we had kind of a make-shift line-up out there after he went out, which hurt us.”
Ellis returned to the game with six minutes to go, but his absence was felt.
“We would much rather play Kansas without Perry,” Weber said. “It shows how good of a player he is and the effect he makes.”
The Wildcats were finished though, going on a 13-5 run and cut the lead to single digits at 57-48 with seven minutes left. During that stretch Wildcat junior forward D.J. Johnson had six points.
With four minutes to go, senior forward Stephen Hurt made a dunk and then a hit a three-pointer, one of three for him on the night, to trail by four.
After a Jayhawk free throw, Justin Edwards connected on a two-pointer and got the Wildcats within three.
The Jayhawks led 65-62 with under two minutes to play, but with the shot clock running down, Jayhawk sophomore guard Devonte’ Graham nailed a step back jumper to extend the lead to five once again, followed by a K-State turnover put a dagger on the game.
“We had our chances, but their guys made the big plays and ours didn’t,” Weber said. “We are getting experience, but we wanted to get our seniors a win tonight.”
K-State never got back within a possession and eventually lost 72-63 in the most hostile environment at the Octagon of Doom this season.
“I don’t think our guys are selfish, but I think they try and make the hard play instead of making the easy play sometimes,” Weber said. “We had some turnovers down the stretch that hurt us and that can’t happen.”
The Wildcats were lead in scoring by both freshman guard Barry Brown and Hurt who had 13 each. Jayhawk junior guard Frank Mason III had 16 points and led all scorers in the winning effort.
“Stephen had a great game in Lawrence and played very well tonight,” Weber said. “His knee has been bothering him so I’m happy for him that he had a good game. His three pointers kept us in the game tonight.”
The game was talked about all over the K-State campus this past week with topics such as storming the court, the implications of the NCAA Tournament and the crowd favorite “Sandstorm” being played.
“To us, this has always been a huge rivalry and I’m sure it is to K-State,” Self said. “The thing is this is good for our state, for our conference and for everyone to have a rivalry game. Intensity within a state rival is good and with the success they have had against us, certainly it makes it that much bigger of a game.”
The Wildcats are 15-12 overall and 4-10 in conference play and the Jayhawks are 23-4 overall and 11-3 in Big 12 play. Kansas holds a two game lead in the conference with four games to go.
K-State will have a short break as they host Texas on Monday at 6 p.m. The Longhorns defeated the Wildcats 60-57 in Austin, Texas on January 5.
“We want to make the NCAA Tournament and we are not quitting,” Weber said. “We need to get Texas on Monday and see what we can do with the finish and the Big 12 Tournament. There is lots of basketball to go and we are close so let’s hope we can get over the hump.”