MANHATTAN — Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly watched Kansas State's 100-76 victory over North Florida from the Wildcats' bench for the first time since the players were suspended nearly two weeks ago.
Also for the first time since the players were found to have committed NCAA infractions for receiving impermissible benefits — clothes from the local Dillard's — Pullen spoke publicly.
"First and foremost I want to apologize to my teammates, coaching staff, my KSU fans and all my friends," Pullen said as way of an opening comment. "I had a lapse in judgment, and I violated some NCAA rules and I take full responsibility for my actions.
"It was a bad decision, but I have to deal with it and move forward."
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Pullen said he hasn't missed a game since his freshman year in high school. Friday marked the third and final game of his suspension. Kelly remains in the penalty box for three more games because the value of what he received at Dillard's was greater.
Pullen said he learned of his penalty a few hours the team's Dec. 21 game against UNLV in Kansas City. He and Kelly didn't accompany the team on the road trip but they were prepared to jump in a car and join the team if the ruling was favorable.
It wasn't. They stayed in Manhattan and watched the Wildcats' four-point loss on television.
"I was glued in front of the TV, cheering like I've never cheered," Pullen said. "I saw the effort, and for them to not know the situation and what the outcome to be before the game... I expected to play. They all expected me to play. For me not to show up at the game, I'm not sure it hurt them or not but it had to be tough."
The suspended players didn't rejoin the team for practice or functions until after Christmas. Pullen said he went home to be with his family.
After the hard-fought loss to the Runnin Rebels, the Wildcats handled UMKC and on Friday put on an offensive and rebounding show against North Florida.
Pullen and Kelly watched three teammates record career-best scoring efforts, led by Wally Judge with 22.
Proof that Judge was locked in: He made 10 of 13 from the free-throw stripe. Entering the contest, Judge had missed 16 of his 20 attempts on the season. He credited working on basketball exclusively during the winter break.
"I'm not blind," Judge said. "I know I had a terrible percentage. Not having classes allows you to get into the gym and work on it."
With 12 points apiece, Victor Ojeleye and Juevol Myles notched career-bests, and they helped fill a stat sheet with plenty for K-State coach Frank Martin to like.
The Wildcats won the board battle 45-15. They shot 57.4 percent from the floor and were credited with 26 assists on their 35 baskets.
Jamar Samuels enjoyed a big game with 26 points and five assists. He stepped outside and buried a couple of three-pointers and operated deftly around the basket as well.
"When we score inside, it's a big plus," Samuels said.
But Samuels was happier for his fellow Washington, D.C., native, Judge, who expected to make a big leap in his second season but entered the game averaging 4.6 points.
"That's the Wally Judge I saw when I was playing 17-and-under, and I used to rush out of my game to watch the 16-and-unders with Wally. Growing up with him, I know he has it."
With Judge coming off his big game and Pullen set to return for Monday's Savannah State game, Samuels couldn't smile enough.
"I'm excited for him coming back," Samuel said. "I haven't seen No. 0 in a long time, except for Willie (the Wildcat's) jersey. I think he's going to come back and rip this thing apart."
Pullen laughed when told of Samuels' prediction. But he believes he knows how to use the suspension to his advantage.
"I kind of feel like Michael Vick in some ways," Pullen said. "I feel like I've got something to prove again. I feel like people doubt what I've done. Now is the reason for me to show them I've worked hard to everything that's come my way.
"It really makes you hungry again and I feel like God did it for a reason."