Blair Kerkhoff

Special things can happen for this senior-led Kansas State basketball team

Kansas State got good moments from Xavier Sneed, Makol Mawien and others on Saturday.

But Saturday’s game that delivered a Big 12 basketball championship to the Wildcats with a 68-53 triumph over Oklahoma belonged to the program’s big three.

At times, seniors Dean Wade, Barry Brown Jr. and Kamau Stokes seemed to be playing their own game, on a level above the rest on the floor.

In the first half, Stokes spotted Wade breaking toward the basket from the baseline and fired a strike in stride. Wade finished the play with a reverse slam. “I’m like, Hey, Dean, do that stuff all the time,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said.

Early in second half, Brown went high to intercept a pass and got the ball to Wade, who dropped it to Stokes for a three-point swish — beautiful defense, ball movement and finish.

They were buckets created by players who grew together and know and understand each other in a bond created through four seasons and hundreds of practice hours.

When classes like this come together special things can happen, like Kansas State in 2018-19.

The Wildcats share the championship with Texas Tech. Victories by both teams on Saturday mean a trophy for each.

Judging by the reaction of both programs they’re good with the split. Tech players raced around the floor hugging each other before engaging the handshake line after winning at Iowa State. The trophy found its way to the locker room, team bus and flight back to Lubbock.

Tech played before Kansas State, but Wade said he wasn’t aware of the Red Raiders’ outcome. The focus was on the Wildcats’ task.

Fortuitous scheduling gave Kansas State the opportunity to win at home, to feel the falling confetti and the love from a capacity crowd that remained throughout the postgame ceremony and net-cutting ceremony.

As for the game, the Wildcats made sure there would be no drama. Consecutive three-pointers by Wade and Stokes opened an early six-point lead. The margin was 10 at halftime and swelled to 29 with about seven minutes remaining.

Stokes’ 19 led the way. Brown with 15 and Wade with 11 along with holding Oklahoma to 41 percent floor shooting made it a typical Kansas State box score.

With 1:05 remaining, Brown crossed midcourt and called timeout to begin the first wave of gratitude with substitutions. On their way off the floor, he and Wade kissed the court.

“I just wanted to show my appreciation to the fans,” Brown said. “I wanted to do something extra special.”

Duties for the seniors weren’t over. In the postgame ceremony, Weber and the players got to exchange appreciation with fans and even as the building began to empty players remained on the floor for photos and selfies with students.

“This is just phase two of our mission,” Weber said. “We have a couple more.”

Winning an in-season tournament was the first job, accomplished in November in the Virgin Islands. Capturing the Big 12 was second.

The Big 12 Tournament, which has not been won by Kansas State or Texas Tech, is next. The Wildcats will be the top seed for the first time.

After that is the NCAA Tournament, which became the origin for this team’s expectation with last season’s run to the Elite Eight.

There were rough spots along the way. The team ranked 12th nationally in the preseason, then fell out of the polls. Injuries to Wade and Stokes had an impact.

But here are they, wearing championship T-shirts and caps with snippets of the net tucked in. The Wildcats will receive Big 12 championship rings, and those will be special. But Weber asked his players what they want etched on the jewelry.

“What do you want on your rings,” Weber said. “It’s going to say Big 12 champions. What else do you want them to say?”

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