It may not be Duke versus North Carolina, but the Sunflower Showdown between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Kansas State Wildcats is about as intense as it gets in college basketball.
The Octagon of Doom was rocking when the Big 12-leading Jayhawks came to town, and the Wildcats did not disappoint the home crowd with an 85-82 overtime victory on Monday night.
The win was even more impressive because Kansas State’s leading scorer Marcus Foster missed most of the second half and overtime with leg issues. However, Kansas had problems of its own with Joel Embiid unable to play significant minutes because he was dealing with a lingering back injury.
Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports noted that the loss shouldn't be considered a knock against the Jayhawks:
Excellent game. What a great rivalry is all about. Huge win for K-State and by no means a bad loss for KU.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) February 11, 2014
Kansas had won 48 of the past 51 games against Kansas State coming into Monday, but this one was all about the Wildcats.
With the win, the Wildcats were able to avenge a previous loss to KU from earlier this season. On Jan. 11, Kansas State walked into legendary Allen Fieldhouse and was completely dominated by Andrew Wiggins and the Jayhawks to the tune of 86-60.
Wiggins finished with 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting in the first matchup, but it was a completely different story for much of the game outside of the comforts of home.
Kansas State director of athletics John Currie urged the crowd to bring its A-game before the rematch:
The Octagon of Doom will be loud and electric tonight! KState Nation let's continue to showcase our first-class atmosphere tonight!— John Currie (@John_Currie) February 10, 2014
While the crowd was raucous throughout the contest, ESPN’s Holly Rowe noted that they were warned to keep it civil in the light of the recent Marcus Smart incident at Texas Tech:
Much like the fans were asked to keep their composure, Bill Self told reporters that his young superstars had to adjust to the atmosphere if Kansas was going to come away with a win (passed along via CBS Sports):
I'm sure that they're doing some things a little differently than they did the first game. We know it will be a totally different game over there with the energy they get from their fans. It'll be a great test for our young kids to go over there and see how tough we are.
Sometimes we can lose focus pretty easily, but this is one of those games where we can't do that.
The young Jayhawks had difficulty performing effectively from the get-go on Monday night, as Wiggins missed all three of his field-goal attempts in the first half and Joel Embiid only had two points at intermission.
Kansas did get off to a sloppy start, but the Wildcats were not able to take advantage. One reason the Jayhawks started so slowly was Kansas State’s stifling defense, as Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star pointed out:
K-State showing why its a top-15 defense, but KU not turning it over. Four on the road for this KU team is pretty good.— Rustin Dodd (@rustindodd) February 11, 2014
The back-and-forth affair resulted in a tie at halftime, but the Wildcats had the momentum heading into the locker room after Perry Ellis missed a dunk and the Jayhawks were swatted away on the offensive putback on the final possession before intermission.
Kansas State did not lose that edge in the second half, parlaying the momentum into an eight-point lead by the under-12 minute timeout.
Self, who was growing visibly frustrated by the developments as the second half wore on, got in Wiggins’ grill during a timeout and urged the freshman to show more effort on the floor.
It paid off.
Wiggins began to attack the rim and get to the free-throw line, which helped the Jayhawks stay in the game.
However, Will Spradling hit a huge three-pointer and slashed the lane for another critical basket when Kansas cut the lead to two points in the second half. Every time Kansas challenged for the lead, the Wildcats answered with crucial points and defensive stops.
Then with five minutes remaining, Foster returned, which spurned the crowd on even more.
It appeared as if Kansas State was going to gradually extend the lead and walk away with an impressive home victory, but the Jayhawks made a late run.
Kansas, on the back of pressure defense and timely points, cut the lead to two with 21 seconds left. Kansas State choked away a chance to clinch the game on the free-throw line, and Wiggins made the Wildcats pay by tying the game up with six seconds remaining.
While the late run would seemingly suggest Kansas was going to take care of business in overtime, the Wildcats rallied and controlled the extra period. They hit their critical free-throws in the extra time, but it was the defensive effort in overtime that won the game.
Nicole Auerbach of USA Today was impressed with Kansas State's composure in overtime:
Really impressed by K-State’s composure/resolve in OT to beat KU after collapse at end of regulation. Court = stormed.— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) February 11, 2014
It was an admirable performance against their archrivals and a victory that the selection committee will likely take note of in March.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: B -
Fair or not, Wiggins gets graded on a different curve because of his all-world talent.
The freshman struggled from the field throughout the night and finished with a box score of 16 points on 4-of-12 shooting from the field and 0-of-4 shooting from behind the arc.
As mentioned, Self tried to get his superstar to bring more effort throughout the game, but to Wiggins’ credit he did get to the charity stripe for 15 free-throw attempts (although he only connected on eight of them).
While he did have a huge air ball on a three-point attempt with less than a minute remaining and Kansas down by three, he made the biggest play of regulation by grabbing his own rebound off a miss with six seconds remaining and tying the game.
It was a pure-effort play, which is exactly what his coach was looking for.
Marcus Foster, Kansas State: A
The fact that Foster gutted out the performance that he did while dealing with cramps and injury issues made his game even more impressive.
Foster finished with 20 points.
The freshman is the leading scorer for the Wildcats and was averaging 14.7 points a night heading into the showdown.
Unfortunately for Kansas State, Foster dealt with cramps all game and had to limp to the locker room in the second half. Dodd pointed out that it wasn’t the first time the Jayhawks have benefited from an opponent's injury:
Kansas has the best luck with awesome Big 12 freshmen an leg injuries. Durant. Blake Griffin. Now Foster. All hobbled against KU.— Rustin Dodd (@rustindodd) February 11, 2014
Look for Foster to continue to lead Kansas State as the Wildcats build on this win going forward.
Joel Embiid, Kansas: Incomplete
Ultimately, this game may have turned out differently if Kansas had its enforcer at the rim for the entire contest.
Embiid entered the game with impressive nightly averages of 10.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks, but only managed to score six points and grab six rebounds due to limited minutes because of a back injury.
If ESPN's Jeff Goodman's tweet is to be believed, though, the fact that the team lost was probably much more difficult to swallow for Embiid than his lack of impressive statistics:
I loved the fact Joel Embiid was all smiles after win at Baylor -- even though he really struggled individually. Not all kids are like that.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) February 7, 2014
The Big-12 leading Jayhawks will get a reprieve in the schedule in the next two games.
Will Kansas make the Final Four?
Kansas will host TCU on Monday and then go on the road to play Texas Tech on Feb. 18. The Horned Frogs are at the bottom of the league standings, while the Red Raiders have floundered in the bottom-half of the conference for most of the year, so look for two upcoming victories from the Jayhawks.
As for Kansas State, the Wildcats travel to Baylor on Feb. 15 to take on a disappointing Bears squad that is better than its record indicates. Following that is a Feb. 19 date with TCU, so at the very least, Kansas State should emerge with a victory against the Horned Frogs.
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