The Kansas Jayhawks exacted revenge from a loss in Manhattan two weeks ago with a 90-78 win over the Kansas State Wildcats on Tuesday night, drawing the season series and Big 12 records even between the two Sunflower State programs.
In the first meeting of the year between KU and K-State, the Wildcats jumped ahead early and controlled the majority of the contest before the Jayhawks forced overtime, though the home team eventually pulled it out.
The script flipped at Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday, with eighth-ranked Kansas taking control early and never relinquishing the lead after the 14:42 mark of the first.
KU was hot from the floor in the first half, going 8-of-16 from three-point range and tallying 12 fastbreak points. In contrast, K-State never got in a consistent offensive flow and struggled with turnovers, something that’s bothered the Wildcats in all three of their losses in Big 12 play.
While it only finished with 13 giveaways for the game, K-State had 10 of them in the first half, which led to 15 points for KU.
“In the first half especially, they were locked in and they made all the hustle plays,” Kansas State coach Jerome Tang said. “They did a better job than we did tonight, so all credit to them.”
The Jayhawks extended their lead to as many as 16 points multiple times in the second half, and while the Wildcats never fell any further behind they only got back within single digits one time in the final 13:20 of the game.
Tang and K-State players all remarked about the impact of the crowd on how the game unfolded, especially in the first half. It was a truly capacity crowd in Lawrence, with public address announcer Eric Danielson mentioning with 13 minutes until tip off that there was still a line of students outside Allen Fieldhouse, and that those in the building needed to squeeze together.
“They play at a fast pace, and they play better at home,” K-State senior guard Markquis Nowell said. “It started early with turnovers, they got out in transition and got the crowd involved.”
Junior forward Jalen Wilson led the Jayhawks in scoring with 20 points in the victory, his fifth game in a row with at least 20 points. During that stretch, in which KU has only gone 2-3, Wilson is averaging 26.6 points per game.
Tang mentioned that it was a positive for his team to keep Wilson under 38 points, his total in the first Sunflower Showdown this year, and Nowell added that slowing Wilson down was part of K-State game plan. The Big 12’s leading scorer shrugged that off.
“I don’t need to score 38 to win,” Wilson said.
Senior guard Kevin McCullar and junior guard Dajuan Harris also reached double figures in scoring for Kansas, with McCullar tossing in 16 points and Harris adding 18.
Harris tied his career high with that total, and said he entered the game looking to score as his teammates and coaches have encouraged him to be more aggressive offensively.
As for McCullar, Kansas coach Bill Self was more impressed by his rebounding effort, which saw the Texas Tech transfer grab 13 boards as part of his third consecutive double-double.
“He’s got to be as good of a guard rebounder as there is in the country,” Self said.
Kansas also got a boost from its bench in the win, as four reserves combined for 19 points. That’s been an area of concern for the Jayhawks lately, but that group inspired more confidence on Tuesday.
“I think our bench has done better as a whole,” Self said, adding: “If our bench wasn’t good, we don’t win tonight.”
The two highest scoring totals of the game belonged to the Wildcats, with Nowell posting 23 points and senior guard Keyontae Johnson scoring 22 along with 12 rebounds for his fourth double-double in a row.
Neither senior shot the ball particularly well, with Nowell going 5-of-18 from the floor and Johnson going 7-of-19, but they shouldered the vast majority of K-State’s offensive load. The other seven Wildcats who saw the floor combined for just 33 points.
“Their guys are hard to guard,” Self said. “They have a good team, and I thought we did a good job for the most part.”
There wasn’t a shortage of storylines entering the game, from KU looking for revenge to how K-State celebrated after winning in Manhattan to the Big 12 race and more. But once the game started, attention turned to suddenly and constantly to officiating and free throws.
KU and K-State combined to shoot 71 free throws in the game, and there were 47 fouls called against the two teams.
Tang even picked up a technical foul in the first half after one call against the Wildcats frustrated him.
“I’ve been in here too many times when it feels like the crowd impacts the referees,” Tang said. “I just wanted them to know I didn’t feel like the calls were being even on both ends.”
Following Round 2 of the Sunflower Showdown, Kansas and Kansas State are both 6-3 in Big 12 play, one game behind the Texas Longhorns for first place in the conference standings. The win marked the end of a three-game league losing streak for the Jayhawks (who broke their overall losing streak against Kentucky this weekend), while the Wildcats have dropped consecutive games in the Big 12 for the first time this year, segmented by a nonconference win over the Florida Gators on Saturday.
Kansas will go on the road for its next contest, its second meeting of the year with the Iowa State Cyclones Saturday at 11:00 a.m. Kansas State, meanwhile, will try to draw level with the Longhorns in the conference standings when it visits Texas Saturday afternoon at 3:00.
For as important as Tuesday’s game was for both sides, each team said they’re just focused on themselves and what they can control.
“We’ve just got to worry about us,” Harris said.
Nowell concurred from the K-State perspective.
“We’re on to the next one, we’re focused on Texas,” Nowell said.
Click below to hear what Jerome Tang, the Wildcats, Bill Self and the Jayhawks had to say about Tuesday’s Sunflower Showdown.
For more reaction to the Kansas Jayhawks’ 90-78 win over the Kansas State Wildcats, check out Mic’d Up with Jake and Fulton from noon-3:00 p.m., and 580 Sports Talk with Brendan and Dan from 3-6:00 p.m. Wednesday on 580 WIBW.