The motto all year was to hang around. Kansas State was a good team, a strong team, but it wasn’t going to dominate the opponent. If they could just be in the game with four minutes to go, the Wildcats would feel good about winning.
The Wildcats hung around long enough to unlock their offensive shackles Friday, and they will be hanging around the NCAA Tournament for at least one more game.
K-State edged eighth-seeded George Washington 56-51 in the first round, setting up a 7 p.m. Sunday game with No. 2 national seed South Carolina for a berth in the Sweet 16. The Wildcats, 19-12, unable to post a stretch of consistent offense to get ahead in the first three quarters, used a 6-0 run at the start of the fourth quarter to post a lead they wouldn’t lose.
“This has kind of been our DNA all year. It’s a resilient group,” coach Jeff Mittie said. “We talked at halftime, ‘Let’s get out of our own way.’ ”
Shaelyn Martin drilled a three-pointer when George Washington, 26-7, had cut it to one point, then Breanna Lewis finished a Martin pass for another three-point lead with four minutes to go. George Washington’s Jonquel Jones finished the fifth shot of a possession for a third one-point deficit, but when Jones hoisted a 17-footer that clanged off front rim, it was Lewis who snared the ball.
The Colonials out-rebounded the Wildcats by 17. K-State only needed to grab one, and Lewis did so. Forced to foul, George Washington put a team that had been 4-of-13 from the stripe back on the line in a nerve-wracking situation — and Kindred Wesemann responded with two swishes.
“Our emphasis was to rebound, because we weren’t doing a great job,” Lewis said. “My main focus was, ‘Do what the coach said.’ It just happened to be the game-changer, that one rebound.”
Lewis fouled out on a Jones shot, Jones hitting two free throws to again cut the deficit to one. Brianna Craig was fouled and missed both shots, but got her own rebound, was fouled again and made both shots.
Martin rebounded Jones’ missed attempt to tie the game and went back to the line to ice it. Two makes later, the Wildcats still had their dancing shoes on, going 6-of-8 from the line in the final four minutes.
The Colonials finished 15-of-58 from the field. They had multiple looks at the rim, but not enough shots would go. The Wildcats, trying to keep their hands up inside, got solid results — and scored 20 points off 21 George Washington turnovers.
“When you get 19 offensive rebounds, you got to get more than 11 second-chance points,” Colonials coach Jonathan Tsipis said. “You only get the door open so many times.”
Kansas State squeezed through the door first and will keep playing.
Megan Deines, who took over in the second half to remove the lid from the K-State basket, led the Wildcats with 14 points. Lewis had 13 while Martin had seven and nine rebounds.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was a win. Mittie admitted he was nervous when the Colonials began fouling late after watching Kansas State leave so many points on the line. But his team’s approach to the season paid off one more time.
“We’ve got some pretty mentally tough kids that way. First half, I thought we played frustrated, trying to do too much,” Mittie said. “Second half, I thought we played determined.”