The knockout punch came early.
Kansas State didn’t take any chances against Oklahoma State and beat the Cowboys with a devastating run at the end of the first half during a 75-57 victory on Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“That probably broke their spirit,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “It was a great finish to the first half.”
It was also a big step forward for the Wildcats, who had failed to build on an early lead as recently as last week and paid dearly for it with a surprising loss at Texas A&M.
Things were different this time.
When the Cowboys pulled to within 30-27 late in the first half, the Wildcats responded like sharks that could sense blood in the water and scored 13 straight points on their way into a joyous locker room.
The stretch lasted for 2 minutes, 55 seconds and included some of K-State’s best basketball of the season.
Here’s a recap: Barry Brown got the run started by calling for the ball behind the arc and effortlessly draining a three-pointer, and Dean Wade got the entire team hyped with a one-handed dunk in transition. With Oklahoma State unable to respond, Xavier Sneed kept the good times rolling with a three-pointer and an assist to Makol Mawien for an easy dunk. Then Brown closed out the half with a three at the buzzer.
What once was a close game suddenly felt over, with K-State leading 43-27. Game over.
“Our last game was not good against Texas A&M,” Wade said. “We wanted to come out and play with the same energy we showed before and play together. Tonight we came out and played with the right energy at the right level and followed the scouting report and executed.”
It was the ideal way for the Wildcats (16-5, 6-2 Big 12) to handle the situation as a road favorite. Oklahoma State (9-12, 2-6), which is down to just eight scholarship players at the moment, has been all over the map this season. When teams let them hang around, they can win with a mixture of three-pointers and zone defense. That’s how they upset South Carolina in this building last week.
But when the Cowboys fall behind, their lack of depth makes it difficult for them to mount a comeback. They typically fold.
That’s what happened here on Saturday.
K-State kept its hot play going in the second half and pulled ahead 49-27. It took Oklahoma State nearly six minutes to score its first points of the second half. The Wildcats went on to lead by as much as 34 at 69-35. Things became so lopsided that the Wildcats were on pace to hand the Cowboys their worst home loss (they have never lost by more than 33 in this building) before Weber pulled his starters.
“When a team that is that good defensively shoots the ball that good offensively,” said Oklahoma State guard Thomas Dziagwa, “man, you are in for a tough game.”
The victory keeps K-State in first place of the Big 12 standings and sets up a monster game with rival Kansas on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum.
The Wildcats will take their chances against the Jayhawks (and anyone else, really) if Wade continues to play the way he did against the Cowboys. The senior forward had a white-hot shooting performance on his way to 24 points. He attempted 9 shots and made all 9 of them, including three three-pointers. He would have had a perfect night, if not for missing three free throws.
He played with swagger, howling after dunks and leaving his hand high in the air after jumpers.
But he had plenty of help. Brown hit five three-pointers on his way to 18 points and Cartier Diarra added 10 points.
Add it all up, and K-State had its most complete effort of the season and a rare road blowout in conference play that will give them momentum heading into one of the biggest games of the year.
“We can’t go through anymore learning. We have got to keep moving forward and stay focused,” Weber said. “That is up to these guys, their determination and their drive to finish their career on a great note. This was a good jump start today.”