MANHATTAN, Kan. — So, this is what it takes for Kansas State to make this a rivalry again — a relentless, reach-down-again-and-again effort that left Wildcats coach Bruce Weber and his players virtually breathless after the game.
The Wildcats, playing as if their NCAA tournament chances depended on this one game, fed off a frenzied crowd that packed Bramlage Coliseum and then somehow held off the favored and, let’s face it, more gifted Kansas Jayhawks, 85-82, in overtime Monday night.
The rivalry, and that word has been more myth than reality when it comes to basketball tangles between Kansas and Kansas State over the decades, suddenly seemed legit.
"Well, it’s a rivalry for one night," Weber, clearly exhausted, said afterward. "Look, they’ve dominated us in basketball. We’ve dominated them in football.
"Now, I hope it will be a rivalry again."
Well, it’s a start. The numbers in the KU-K-State series look only slightly less hideous now — Kansas had won 48 of 51 between the schools coming into Monday, including 23 of 25 at Bramlage and 28 of the last 30 in Manhattan.
But the horror of that dominance can be forgotten for a moment, as the hundreds of fans who stormed the court after the game most surely will attest.
"I’m just so happy for the seniors," Weber said. "We’ve talked about leaving a legacy, about putting games like this on your resume. This was huge.
"And hopefully it’s big on our resume as we go for an NCAA tourney bid and seeding."
It no doubt will.
The Wildcats, 17-7 overall and 7-4 in the Big 12, played almost a perfect second half, at least until the final minutes when they squandered a nine-point lead they had built largely on the dynamic play of guard Will Spradling and reserve forward D.J. Johnson.
Spradling played one of his finest games as a Wildcat in a big-time moment — he hit five of eight shots, including three of five from three-point range, and scored 15 points. He also grabbed a team-high six rebounds, had a team-high five assists and a team-high three steals.
"I’ve always known how big this game is," Spradling said. "I wasn’t really nervous beforehand. You tell yourself it’s a normal game and that sort of ends when you get out on the court."
The Wildcats also got a significant boost from Johnson, a 6-foot-9 sophomore who came through with nine second-half points, four rebounds and two blocked shots.
Johnson got free inside for a layup after a pretty dish from Spradling and gave Kansas State a 66-57 lead with just over three minutes left.
Kansas State seemingly was in control.
Then the Wildcats almost did their best to blow it. With the score 68-61 and one minute, 40 seconds left, K-State’s Nino Williams got ahead of the pack on a fast break, but instead of trying to pull back and chew up clock, Williams raced in and missed a contested layup.
KU’s Brannan Greene then grabbed a Jayhawk miss and dunked to make it 68-63.
Under pressure on the inbounds pass, K-State’s Shane Southwell tried to throw the ball off Greene’s leg to avoid a 10-second turnover call. But Greene grabbed the attempt, turned toward the basket and laid the ball. Suddenly, it was a 68-65 game.
Marcus Foster, who scored 20 points for the Wildcats, then missed a jumper.
And over the next 40 seconds, K-State’s Wesley Iwundu missed two of three free throws to the astonishment of the Wildcat crowd.
A Naadir Tharpe jumper and then an Andrew Wiggins tip-in with four seconds left sent the game into overtime.
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"You just can’t do the things we did down the stretch," Weber said. "We had played so well. But we miss a layup we shouldn’t take, we try to throw the ball off someone’s leg — you never do that — and we missed free throws.
"I said to the guys after regulation, ‘Look at me. You’ve worked too hard to lose this game.’ And they responded."
Kansas coach Bill Self wasn’t too sure the Jayhawks had momentum even after the late rally.
"I don’t think you can really have momentum in a building this juiced," Self said.
Spradling hit a huge three to re-energize the crowd in the overtime, and Foster delivered a conventional three-point play to give the Wildcats a 75-73 lead in the extra period.
This time, the Wildcats didn’t relinquish the lead.
"Give K-State credit," Self said. "Sometimes it is really deflating when you blow a lead late. But they came back with plenty of energy in overtime."
Perry Ellis led the Jayhawks (18-6, 9-2) with 19 points and Wiggins had 16.
"People talk about Wiggins but I think Perry Ellis is the MVP of this league," Weber said. "He’s a winner. He is so good."
Just not good enough on this night.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email email@example.com.