In the final minutes of the second half, Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe had jammed his hands together and looked at his teammates. Bramlage Coliseum was coming in waves, all around them.
“Don’t break down!” Tharpe had yelled, his voiced swallowed by an avalanche of noise. “Don’t break down.”
It was the final minutes here on Monday night, and finally, it was a showdown. K-State’s players were gassed and dropping by the minute. Kansas was just trying to survive.
Perhaps that’s what this Monday night was about: Survival. No. 7 Kansas had done it in the final minutes of regulation, storming back from nine points down in the final 2 minutes. And here was K-State in overtime, rising from a near collapse, handing Kansas just its third loss in Manhattan in the last 31 years.
“We just couldn’t get any stops,” Kansas sophomore forward Perry Ellis said.
In the moments after Kansas’ 85-82 loss, as K-State’s fans swarmed the floor, it felt like an instant classic. Two in-state rivals battling for 40 minutes — and beyond. The Jayhawks had played like a team that deserved to lose, and freshman Andrew Wiggins had nearly saved them with game-tying putback in the final seconds of regulation.
But for first time since 2011, the Jayhawks left the floor of Bramlage Coliseum with a loss. In the end, there were too many breakdowns.
“I felt like there was a time we were going to get the lead and get away with it,” Tharpe said. “But they didn’t stop fighting. They didn’t stop fighting the whole game, and they were relentless.”
Kansas dropped to 18-6 for the season and 9-2 in the Big 12. And in some ways, it felt as if they lost twice. After trailing 68-59 with less than 2 minutes left, the Jayhawks pulled off a near impossible comeback.
In the final seconds, trailing by just two, Wiggins contorted his body in position to grab his own missed shot and tied the game at 69-69 at the end of regulation.
All his life, Wiggins’ coaches and teammate have talked about his “second jump,” the ability to sky off the ground just moments after landing. This was that jump, saving the Jayhawks in the final seconds.
One month ago, in Lawrence, Kansas had destroyed this same K-State team by 26 points. Now they were minutes away from their second Big 12 loss. Kansas State kept back-cutting, play after play. And, despite Perry Ellis’ 19 points and 11 rebounds, the Jayhawks were left flustered.
Freshman center Joel Embiid was limited to 18 minutes while battling an assortment of ailments — the remnants of a knee sprain, some soreness in the back. And Kansas coach Bill Self said Embiid could potentially miss more time going forward.
“Joe is beat up,” Self said. “He’s beat up. I’m not going to make one excuse for him, because if you’re out there you have to (perform), but certainly he’s going to get some time off.”
How long? Self didn’t know. But it could mean missing games if that gets Embiid fully healthy. The Jayhawks play host to TCU on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks also played without sophomore forward Jamari Traylor, who sat because of a disciplinary issue.
“He was irresponsible,” Self said. “He needed to sit.”
But how did this happen? How had Kansas been so dominant against the Wildcats in one building and so mediocre looking on the road? Some of it was the building, of course. This was, after all, a showdown, the way its often been in Manhattan the last couple years.
The Jayhawks had won six straight against K-State — and 13 of 14 in the series — but unlike all those ritual noogies in Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks have usually had to work inside the Bram. The last three Kansas victories in Manhattan had come by an average of four points.
Some of it was K-State’s defense, a physical performance that seemed to limit the Jayhawks’ chances inside. And maybe some of it was youth. Wiggins and Wayne Selden combined to hit just two of their first 12 shots. Wiggins, at least, was active, hitting eight of 15 from the free-throw line and finishing with 16 points. Selden, though, was just a little off. The injured Embiid wasn’t much better, finishing with six points and never managing to take advantage of his length in the paint.
Inside Bramlage Coliseum, the party raged. For Kansas, there were too many breakdowns to overcome.
“It’s always been a rivalry to me,” Self said. “I think sometimes fan don’t understand how hard it is to win away from home.”