It was a championship-type atmosphere in a sold-out Bramlage Coliseum on senior day as the Wildcats defeated Oklahoma 68-53 to claim a share of the Big 12 title for the second time in the Bruce Weber era and the first since the 2012-13 season.
A strong upper-class headlined by senior guards Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes and senior forward Dean Wade led the Wildcats to the title.
In a season wrinkled with injuries to key players like Wade, Stokes and junior guard Cartier Diarra, who missed the last eight games with a hand injury, the senior leadership was important.
“I’m just so proud of the seniors, obviously it’s a special group,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “But the whole team stuck together, they’ve been resilient. Tough losses, injuries, sickness, they keep coming back. You lose your first two games of the conference, and you still win a title. That even makes it a little more special,”
Defense has been the trademark for the Wildcats all season long, leading the Big 12 in scoring defense in conference games, limiting opponents to 59.1 points per game.
“I think it’s ironic that the best two defensive teams in the league won the championship,” Weber.
Texas Tech was number one in scoring defense this season, limiting opponents to 58.2 points per game.
Wade, Brown and Stokes established a legacy at K-State by helping the Wildcats to three NCAA tournament appearances including a trip to the Elite Eight.
Weber’s recruits have combined to score 4,419 points in their tenure at K-State, the most by a trio among all power-five Conferences.
In 2015-16, the trio’s freshman year, K-State finished tied for eighth place in the Big 12 with a 17-16 record including a 5-13 record in the conference.
“We still knew that we brought it every day. Fought every day. Played every game like it was our last and so it was just a matter of time for us to get to this thing,” Brown said. “I’ve never been with a group of guys who work so hard and buy into the scouting report and take criticism and do all the things that champions do.”
Just three years later, fresh off an Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA tournament in 2018 the Wildcats reached the mountaintop with a Big 12 title.
The turning point of this season came after a 0-2 start in the conference facing a 21-point to West Virginia at Bramlage Coliseum it appeared to be a wasted season in the making, but a Kamau Stokes three would spark a historic comeback and a nine-game conference winning streak.
That streak included victories over Kansas, on the road over West Virginia, and on the road against Oklahoma. All of which the seniors for K-State hadn’t accomplished before.
This senior class has already accomplished a lot in a season, but there is still a lot of basketball to play. The Wildcats will travel east on I-70 to Kansas City as the one seed for the Big 12 tournament and are currently sitting at a four seed in the latest NCAA tournament bracketology.
The Wildcats will play the winner of No. 8 seeded TCU and No. 9 Oklahoma State matchup on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. on ESPN.