MANHATTAN, Kan. — Even when the Wildcats win, they find a way to lose. In the matter of a few insane minutes, Kansas State fans managed to bury the lede on the best story — and biggest victory — of a trying season. And it’s a shame. A damn shame.
Oklahoma has Bedlam.
Kansas has Wrestlemania.
There’s a Wildcat fan, throwing an elbow into the side of Jayhawks forward Jamari Traylor.
There’s a Kansas staffer, grabbing another patron in front of the KU bench and putting him in a headlock, WWE style.
In the minutes and hours after K-State 70, No. 8 Kansas 63, those were the images that immediately peppered social media, the instant talking points for the morning chat shows.
Not the game of Nigel Johnson’s life (20 points, four of five from beyond the arc). Not seniors Nino Williams (15 points) and Thomas Gipson (12 points) leaving behind a legacy moment in a season most Wildcat faithful would just as soon forget.
Not Perry Ellis, the Wichita native, propping the Jayhawks up pretty much by his lonesome (24 points, nine rebounds) in a game KU (22-6, 11-4) didn’t just want, but genuinely needed in order to stay atop the Big 12.
Instead, the snapshot is mayhem, the super-awkward moment on national television in which Bruce Weber, Bill Self’s successor at Illinois — and they’re not close friends, publicly or privately — appeared to shield the coach of his rival program from a crushing wave of his own fans in front of the scorer’s table.
"I tried to protect Bill as best I could," Weber said.
"Finally I just said, ‘The heck with it,’ (and) I started pushing people out of the way. Which is sad.
"Enjoy it, make the most of it, but also be respectful of your opponent and make sure they get off the court safely."
So many wrongs here, and nobody’s right. Kansas State’s security parted before the purple sea of fans — most of them students — just as they did a year ago when the Wildcats upset Team Wiggins.
It makes for a cute highlight, sure. Until somebody gets hurt.
"Court-storming is fine, but surely, you can get security to the point where player safety is not involved like it is over here (at Bramlage Coliseum)," Self said once the smoke finally cleared. "The last several times they’ve won, they’ve stormed the court on us. That’s disappointing that happened again, but we also allowed it to happen again by not playing well.
"It’s a ballgame; it’s not about chicken-winging somebody when the game’s over, stuff like that. That’s not what it’s about. Hopefully, they can get that corrected, because it’s fine if you want to celebrate when you beat us. That’s your business, that’s fine. But at least it shouldn’t put anybody at risk from a safety standpoint. Because we’re asking for big problems because somebody’s going to hit a player — and a player’s going to retaliate, and you’re going to have lawsuits and cases. It’s just not right."
It isn’t. But somebody on Self’s bench going all Rowdy Roddy Piper on the locals isn’t exactly the most measured recourse, either.
"There’s just no place for it to be unsafe," Self said. "If you do it, at least do it around center court. Don’t do it at the other bench."
"I felt bad," Weber said. "And I love the (K-State) students. It’s a cool thing to be a part of that. But you’ve also got to be careful, you know, of making sure no one gets hurt."
We love the atmosphere of this game, the passion, the students, the grown men and women who still act like they’re undergrads when they step inside their favorite team’s home building. But without that passion having limits, without lines, without repercussions when those lines are crossed, you’re left with anarchy. No. You’re left with soccer.
"It definitely hurts, man," Ellis said. "Being a player and getting the court stormed on me, it’s not a good feeling. It’s not a good feeling at all. That’s all I really have to say about that."
In hindsight, maybe we should’ve seen it coming. Before at least 15 pro scouts and with an at-large ticket to Bracketville off the table weeks ago, most — if not all — of the Wildcats’ eggs were in this particular basket. For KU, even with Iowa State breathing down its collective necks in the standings, Monday was a business trip.
And in the first half, that urgency — long, lost urgency — was glaringly apparent. A K-State roster that looked like it was ready to fold up the tent and call it a season during a disastrous two-step in Texas made a point to match the electricity of the home crowd and, in particular, the student section.
Plus, for a change, they actually scored some points, too. The first 10 minutes of the opening half provided a series of jabs and return blows, but the last 10 belonged to Wildcat reserve Johnson, who drained the hosts’ first triple of the night with 4:37 before halftime, then scored five more points during a 12-4 K-State run that closed the period. The Wildcats went into the locker room with a 31-30 cushion — this from a crew that had managed just 40 points, combined, during the first half of soul-crushing setbacks at TCU and at Baylor.
Ellis, meanwhile, drained seven of his first nine shots, netting 15 points in the game’s first 17 minutes. while everybody else had managed 30 combined. Even as Big 34’s seven-for-10 from the floor got the party started, he could’ve used a little help; the rest of the Jayhawks were six for 21 for the half.
"I think one of the reasons they played great," Self said, "was because they were playing us."
So yes, the tension, the anger of the fan base, was real. Real and palpable. But that doesn’t excuse taking a mob mentality as a form of release.
"I wasn’t nervous for me," Self said. "There were several students that hit our players; (I’m) not saying like with fists. But when you storm the court, you run in, you bump everybody, stuff like that — this has got to stop."
And the sooner, you feel, the better. The Jayhawks have their own problems — namely, that their lead in the league they’ve won 10 straight times was down to a half game as of Tuesday morning. The Cyclones (10-4 Big 12) are home to Baylor late Wednesday night … then visit Bramlage, the Octagon of Doom, on Saturday. Hopefully, no one winds up in a headlock again afterward.