January 24, 2009

K-State earns first Big 12 win at Colorado

BOULDER (Colo.) -- It's a well-known fact: in basketball, referees don't hand out style points. If they did, however, said points wouldn't have mattered to Kansas State on Saturday, as the Wildcats would have been awarded none for their 77-75 overtime win over Colorado. Then again, to a team just breaking out of a four-game losing streak, style is of little concern.

"When you have as many young kids as we have, and all of a sudden you get hit in the mouth five consecutive times, you have to step back and gather your senses," K-State head coach Frank Martin said following the game. "You have to realize that you have to hit back."

Ill-advised passes, blown leads, missed lay-ups, poor shooting and silly fouls, yeah, this one had it all. But still, as far as Martin is concerned, none of that dulled the taste of victory, not in the slightest.

"Anytime you win on the road in league play, you should be excited," Martin said. "Road wins in league play are never easy."

As K-State's second-year head coach said following the game, his team's first league win was certainly not easy. It wasn't pretty either.

Still, beautiful, ugly or upside down, the Wildcats are now finally into the Big 12 win column, thanks in large part to junior Denis Clemente's 15-point performance, an overtime floater from sophomore Jacob Pullen and a pair of clutch free throws from senior Darren Kent.

As sloppy as K-State's first conference victory was, it wasn't boring either.

The Wildcats never trailed in the overtime period, but they never led comfortably either, and when Colorado, now 0-4 in league play, closed to within one point with just 1:39 remaining in the extra period, K-State needed a hero.

Enter Pullen. The sophomore guard withstood contact to convert on a running floater with just 36 seconds left to play and staked his team to 3-point lead.

"I knew that I had to make a play," Pullen, who finished Saturday's game with a team-high 17 points, said of his crucial overtime basket. "I can create my own shot. I'm not a small dude. I figured I could create space to get a shot off."

Pullen's late bucket was definitely necessary, but it, by itself, wouldn't be enough to hold off the Buffaloes, who despite being on the ropes for a majority of Saturday's contest simply refused to fall until the end. After being called for a traveling violation in an attempt to come away with a defensive rebound, Kent found himself on the free-throw line defending a one-point lead with just five ticks remaining in overtime.

And just as upperclassmen are expected to do, K-State's lone senior drilled both.

"The responsibility of winning was square on Darren's shoulders," Martin said. "That's a first experience for him in college basketball. He's never dealt with that before."

The end of regulation was no less frantic than the game's conclusion.

The Wildcats watched as a 10-point lead evaporated in the final 10:04 of the second half, and by the time K-State sophomore Fred Brown missed the front of a one-in-one with less than 30 seconds to play, it was a one-possession game.

Unfortunately for K-State fans, however, one possession was all the Buffs needed to force overtime, and as fate would have it, it was all they took.

As Colorado's Dwight Thorne II, who scored a game-high 30 points Saturday, spotted up from the top of the arc with time expiring in regulation, a very unwelcome yet familiar feeling crept into the stomach of every Wildcat on the floor.

"It was obviously discouraging, because you work so hard to build a lead in the last minutes," Kent said. "Then, they come down and hit a couple shots. That hurts."

Especially in this situation, a win is a win, but K-State's first one of the Big 12 season didn't have to be as dramatic as it was.

Despite shooting just 7-of-21 from the field in the opening half, the Buffaloes hung in. Eleven of Colorado's 26 first-half points came from the free-throw line, a place it found itself 15 times in the period, allowing it to overcome the poor shooting and untimely turnovers to salvage a 26-26 score at the half.

"We know that we should have maintained a lead and that it shouldn't have been that close," Pullen said. "Playing against somebody at home, they're going to make a run. They made a deadly run and made some shots. We just had to buckle down."

Joining Pullen and Clemente as K-State players to register double-digit point totals against Colorado were Kent and junior Luis Colon, who scored 13 and 10 respectively.

The Wildcats, now 1-4 in the Big 12 and 12-7 overall, will look to collect conference win No. 2 on Wednesday, when they are set to host Missouri.


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