Wildcats may not have arrived yet — but they’re well on their way
MANHATTAN, Kan. — OK, this is getting somewhat serious.
The resurrected Kansas State Wildcats, on the verge of being knocked out and blown out of their own gym numerous times Saturday, instead roared back and stunned the always-dangerous Baylor Bears, 63-61.
Make that four straight wins for Kansas State, now 11-7 overall and an eye-popping 4-1 in the Big 12, the nation’s toughest conference according to the RPI rankings.
And the postseason can no longer be considered a pipe dream.
"We haven’t arrived yet," K-State coach Bruce Weber cautioned. "We got a lot of games left."
But Saturday’s win might have been even more impressive for the Wildcats than knocking off Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., a week ago.
The Wildcats, like their season just two weeks ago, seemingly were dead and buried Saturday, trailing Baylor by as many as 14 points in the first half, and by 12 with just 11:27 left in the game.
Oh, and we should mention that the 12-point lead for Baylor came with K-State’s Mr. Everything Marcus Foster on the bench with four fouls.
"I admit we were feeling good at that point," Baylor coach Scott Drew said.
But then the improbable happened. The Wildcats suddenly throttled the high-powered Baylor offense and began chipping away at the deficit even without their top scorer.
"We just started playing hard on defense and attacking more on offense," Weber said. "And I think (Baylor) froze a little."
Contributions came from everywhere, most notably from forward Nino Williams, who dropped in 18 points and banged bodies underneath with Baylor, the best rebounding team in the conference. Williams wound up with seven rebounds.
Down 49-37, Williams knocked home eight points during a 13-2 run. He hit an eight-footer near the baseline, powered in a tough, physical bucket underneath and then sank four free throws.
Point guard Jevon Thomas had another erratic game for K-State, committing five turnovers against the zone. But he did drop in a huge 3-pointer with just under 10 minutes left to aid that 13-2 run.
And during one 70-second stretch, guard Justin Edwards made two free throws, followed up his own miss with a bucket and had a steal, a sequence that helped the Wildcats take a 54-51 lead.
Baylor, of course, refused to go away.
Taurean Prince came off the bench for Drew and dropped in 20 overall. His two free throws tied it at 56-56 with 4:23 left.
Then K-State guard Nigel Johnson nailed his only shot of the day — a massively important 3-pointer with 3:32 left. "Just a huge, huge shot," Weber said.
Later, Williams hit another baseline jumper with two minutes left and K-State led 61-58. With 1:43 left, Foster, who scored just one point in the second half, finally returned to the game.
"Not much we could do about that," Weber said. "(Foster) had three fouls early in the second half, he comes back in with 11 minutes left and gets his fourth right away. We had to sit him.
"And we had the comeback without him."
Foster got a great 3-point look with 16 seconds left and the Wildcats still up 61-58. He missed, but Johnson made another big play by snaring the rebound and getting fouled.
Johnson made one foul shot with 10.8 seconds left.
Then Baylor’s sensational guard Kenny Chery, who had 16 points, including four 3-pointers, in the first half, drove through the Wildcat defense, scored and was fouled, drawing Baylor within 62-61 with five seconds left.
K-State’s Thomas Gipson was fouled immediately and made just one of two free throws. Baylor had a chance to win it or tie with 4.8 seconds to go.
"It seems every game we have goes down to the last five seconds," Drew said. "Sometimes you get good endings."
Not this time. Chery had a great opportunity, driving all the way to the hoop before his runner bounced off the rim.
"I thought they would double-team me, but they didn’t," Chery said. "I have to convert."
K-State’s Wesley Iwundu said he guarded Chery with one thought.
"Just make him go to his left," Iwundu said. "He likes to score from his right side. I got him to go left."
Actually, Iwundu did a fabulous job of defending Chery in the second half, holding him to five points. And that defensive assignment was by accident.
"Wesley wound up on him during a switch early in the second half," Weber said. "And I think that length bothered (Chery) a little so we just let Wes guard him the rest of the way.
"Wesley did a nice job on him."
And when it was over, the Wildcats all sighed in relief.
"You couldn’t get any lower than we were after the Texas Southern loss and the two more losses after that," Weber said. "But we have hung in there."