No. 12 K-State rolls to 11-1 start

With a short turnaround off a tough road win and several players

fighting nagging injuries, Frank Martin decided to try an

experiment.

Instead of relentlessly pushing his team through practice as

he almost always does, the Kansas State coach took it easy on them.

Martin won’t do that again. Not after the way the Wildcats

had to claw their way past a winless opponent.

Jacob Pullen had 18 points, Dominique Sutton added 14 and No.

12 Kansas State responded to its highest ranking in 36 years with

an uneven 90-76 victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Monday night.

“I’m like everyone else,” Martin said. “I make decisions.

When they work out, I understand. When they don’t, I take notes and

move forward. I kind of prepare my mind for the next time we have a

quick turnaround.”

It wasn’t just Martin’s trial balloon. The Wildcats had

plenty of reasons for a letdown: one day off after a hard-fought

win over Alabama, facing a winless opponent after a tough four-game

stretch, the excitement of a high ranking, a trip home for

Christmas in the morning.

Kansas State (11-1) battled through the distractions, using

balanced scoring and a swarming defense to wear down Pine Bluff

after four resume-building wins over bigger programs. Curtis Kelly

had 13 points and eight rebounds, Denis Clemente and Jamar Samuels

added 12 points each and the Wildcats shot 50 percent for their

eighth consecutive win.

“Everyone probably expected us to come out and destroy them,

but it was a tough game for us,” Pullen said.

Not surprisingly, Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-10) didn’t make it

easy on Kansas State.

The Golden Lions had gone through a gauntlet of tough games

before arriving in Manhattan and weren’t in awe of the atmosphere

of playing in a Big 12 arena against a ranked opponent.

UAPB scrapped to keep it close early, made a gritty run late

to cut a 24-point lead in half and never let up, even as the win

climbed out of reach. Tyree Glass had 18 points and Savalance

Townsend added 16 for the Golden Lions, who lost another road game

despite shooting 52 percent.

“It’s hard to get down to a team like K-State and try to dig

yourself out of that hole,” UAPB coach George Ivory said. “I’m just

proud of the guys. They never quit and they competed all the way to

the end.”

This game was never supposed to be close.

Off to their best start in five years, the Wildcats have the

nation’s best RPI rating, second-best strength of schedule and have

beaten two ranked nonconference teams in the same season for the

first time since 1958-59.

They also entered Monday’s game with 20 consecutive

nonconference wins at home.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff hasn’t won a game, hasn’t played at home

and is in the midst of a brutal stretch of eight straight games

against schools from BCS conferences that thankfully ends next week

at Oregon.

Complete mismatch, right?

Well, not completely.

UAPB has kept most of its games close, even against the

big-conference schools, losing by an average of 14.2 points. The

Golden Lions stayed with Kansas State early by sneaking in for

offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive.

What hurt UAPB was turnovers — again.

The Golden Lions had 15 that led to 19 points for Kansas

State in the first half and 21 overall after turning it over 20

times in a loss to Missouri on Saturday.

The miscues set up easy opportunities at the other end for

Kansas State, particularly Pullen.

Coming off a 30-point game against Alabama, the junior guard

scored Kansas State’s first eight points and keyed two

game-changing runs.

Pullen whipped a nifty bounce pass through traffic to set up

Sutton for a two-handed slam to cap an early 12-2 run that put the

Wildcats up 27-14. He hit a 3-pointer to start another run, this

one a 15-0 halftime-spanning streak that included Clemente’s

buzzer-beating 3-pointer from about 30 feet and was capped by

Sutton’s steal, dunk and three-point play that put the Wildcats up

53-29.

UAPB scored 24 of the next 36 points to cut Kansas State’s

lead to 65-53, but the Wildcats followed with a 10-0 run to pull

away. Another loss for the Golden Lions, but also another good

lesson for when the Southwestern Athletic Conference season starts

next month.

“It was good that we got to play against a team like this,”

Ivory said. “It’s exciting for our guys to play against a team like

that, especially in a basketball atmosphere like the crowd was

tonight.”