By: D. Scott Fritchen
Kansas State fought. The Wildcats fought because they cared. They fought because they were inspired. And they fought because they expected to win. Yes, every game is tough when you play in America’s toughest conference, and the Wildcats smiled in the face of adversity against No. 19 Iowa State, this determined group facing a deficit at the half. Plunged into this season-long journey of mounting pressure in mid-February, the determined Wildcats persevered to the delight of another sellout crowd at the Bramlage Coliseum. No. 12 K-State 61, No. The Wildcats had lost four of their last five, and suffered back-to-back losses at Texas Tech and Oklahoma, and head coach Jerome Tang said his team needed to win two games to secure a berth in the NCAA tournament. Afterward, Tang stopped calling the win over Iowa State a “must win,” but said he “still think we need to win one more conference game to solidify” an NCAA berth, which was the Wildcats’ goal at the beginning of this season. “If we had lost this match, it doesn’t mean our season was over,” said Tang. “It was about playing at a high level that would give us a chance to win. That’s all you can ask for every night.” Later, Tang added, “All of our goals are still ahead of us. All of you, our fans and everyone on the outside want us to win every game and then play great. Shoot, we’re trying to win 1 games If we can win by 1, we’ll be really, really happy, and some nights we won’t win, and that’s just part of being a contestant.” The key is, you fight every night. “And K-State fought.
K-State is now behind Texas, Kansas and Baylor in the Big 12 standings with four championship games remaining before the Big 12 Championship. The Wildcats host #9 Baylor, 20-7 and 9-5, Tuesday nights. K-State beat Baylor in an overtime thriller 97-95 in Waco, Texas on January 7th. “The coach told us not to settle and think we’ve already made the tournament,” said Keyontae Johnson. “We still have to win a lot of games coming up. Our main focus, we got two Ls, and we needed to win at home. We took care of business and now our focus is on getting ready for Baylor.” It’s been a long week for K-State. Heck, it’s been a long season. After the Wildcats looked sluggish late on against the Sooners, Tang decided to rest his team for two days and do a prep day for the Cyclones, because, as Tang said, “we needed the legs.” The Wildcats trailed 31-23 at halftime and then switched gears against the Cyclones, and Markquis Nowell and Johnson and the Wildcats’ staunch defense led the charge in the second half. Nowell scored 18 of his team’s 20 points in the second half and Johnson added 15 points, as the Wildcats held the Cyclones to just 30.6 percent shooting overall — the Wildcats’ best field goal percentage all year. season – including just 21.9 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes, to avenge an 80-76 loss in Ames, Iowa on Jan. 24. “Once we started shooting, the crowd got involved,” Nowell said. “We can’t thank our fans enough for their love, support and energy.” The K-State students’ love became evident again hours before the tip. It was then that Tang said he saw students standing outside in the cold Manhattan air awaiting their chance to enter the arena gates. “Our crowd was incredible,” Tang said. “We’ve lost a few Big 12 games in a row and won against Florida and TCU. Sometimes you have fickle fans and you only show up when you win, but man, our students, I asked them to show up and they showed up. The energy that they gave us today propelled us to victory”. It’s been quite a climb for K-State up to this point. Picked 10th in the Big 12 during the preseason, K-State is a top-20 team in the nation and has six wins against top-25 AP teams on its track record — the most since a school-record seven top-25 wins in 2009 -10. Tang is the fourth first-year head coach in school history to win 20 games, joining Lon Kruger (1986-87), Bob Huggins (2006-07), and Frank Martin (2007-08). K-State is now 14-1 at home with games remaining against the Bears on Tuesday, Oklahoma State on Saturday, Oklahoma on March 1, and West Virginia on March 4. It’s hard to win away from home, and it’s hard to even win a top-level match, especially in this league,” Ishmael Massoud said. “It’s just about going back to what we were doing in the beginning to be successful, and that’s playing freely, having fun together and just trying to go 1-0 and win the day, and not just focus on where this game is going to take us in terms of where we are in this league, but just trying to win every single game and every single possession.” The Wildcats have battled the Cyclones and are in a better position for it.” I just want to win,” Nowell said. “I want to do everything I can to win. This is my mentality. That’s all. I want to win”.