MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State was willing to go into a swoon once Saturday when Jacob Pullen went to the bench with foul trouble. Only once.
When the Wildcats’ senior guard picked up two fouls in the first half, No. 20 Missouri went on a 10-1 run. But when he took a seat with four fouls with about 7 minutes left in a tight game, his teammates settled down and took control, unfurling a gritty 9-0 run that carried them to an 80-70 victory.
“That’s kind of what it’s about,” said Frank Martin, who became the first coach in Kansas State history to win 20 games in each of his first four seasons. “You have a team, not players.”
Pullen scored 24 points, reaching a rare career milestone, and Curtis Kelly added 15 points and six rebounds for the resurgent Wildcats (20-9, 8-6), who have won six of seven and are battling Missouri (22-7, 8-6) for the fourth and final bye in the Big 12 tournament.
Pullen went 3 for 3 from 3-point range and scored 11 quick points at the game’s outset, becoming one of two Kansas State players to go over the 2,000-point mark. But he picked up his fourth foul with 7:16 left and was on the bench when Missouri’s Michael Dixon hit a 3-pointer for a 60-60 tie with 6:10 to go.
But Will Spradling hit a 3-pointer, Rodney McGruder made a floater in the lane and Nick Russell had four free throws in a 9-0 run as the foul-plagued Tigers dropped to 1-6 in Big 12 road games.
“Will was real tentative in practice the last two days and I was real hard on him,” Martin said. “It’s a credit that a young kid, a freshman, can step up and accept that responsibility. When Jake went out, him and Rodney accepted responsibility. Curtis accepted responsibility. The most important part was we got defensive stops, which is what gave us the opportunity.”
Marcus Denmon had 22 points and Laurence Bowers had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Tigers, who came in with a four-game winning streak but have a conference road win against only last-place Iowa State.
While struggling to stop the Kansas State surge in the final minutes, the Tigers had four players with four fouls and three others with three.
“They made plays down the stretch,” Denmon said. “We were in our zone defense when it was tied 60-60. It was a credit to them. We had a lot of mental mistakes as a team. We did a lot of things that you can’t do on the road.”
Pullen, one of the hottest shooters in the nation the past two weeks, hit his first three 3-pointers and had 11 points as the Wildcats bolted to a 15-7 lead. He and Mike Evans are the only Kansas State players to score 2,000 points.
The Kansas State bench scored 29 points and the Wildcats had a 39-24 rebounding edge over the team that beat them 75-59 on Jan. 17.
“We had a lot of dudes step up, even in the first half,” Pullen said. “Will made some shots. They had confidence. They felt like this was our game and we weren’t giving it away. When you’ve got a team that’s playing like we’re playing right now, just hitting our stride and feeling really good about ourselves, it really makes everything easy, even when I’m not in the game.”
In his four-year career, Pullen has never lost to Missouri at home.
Copyright Associated Press