Manhattan The shots weren’t falling, the bodies were. Their coach’s face was nearly purple, and a few fans threw objects onto the floor.
Faced with a start like this any other year, Kansas State would have blinked, folded under the pressure.
Not this team. Backing down is never an option for this bunch.
Overcoming an ugly first 15 minutes offensively, the sixth-ranked Wildcats leaned on their defense and kept their composure in a tough atmosphere to pull out a defense-dominated 63-53 victory over gritty Missouri on Saturday.
“It was a hard-fought game and our guys never lost their focus or their emotion because of the physical part of the game, because of mistakes, because of missed shots,” coach Frank Martin said. “They stayed the course and when teams do that in a big game, you’ve got to be proud of them.”
The Wildcats (24-4, 11-3 Big 12) watched the first half of top-ranked Kansas’ loss to Oklahoma State and knew they had an opportunity. Instead of grabbing it, they missed one shot after another against Missouri’s pressure defense, putting together their worst shooting half in 14 years (18 percent).
But the Wildcats didn’t slump their shoulders, didn’t let Missouri run away with it. Relying on defense, Kansas State broke out of its funk — at least partly — and took control with a 15-2 run early in the second half. The plucky team held on down the stretch to keep alive its slim hopes of tying rival Kansas for the Big 12 regular season title.
The Wildcats have their most wins since 1987-88 and can take another step Wednesday in Lawrence, where Allen Fieldhouse is sure to be rockin’ for what could be the biggest game in the history of one of college basketball’s most heated rivalries.
“Our team understands this could be our big push for the Big 12 championship,” said Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen, who had 11 points. “We get to go to KU and we have our destiny in our hands.”
Missouri (21-8, 9-5) won the first meeting between the cross-state rivals on Jan. 9 with gritty defense and had Kansas State on its heels early in the rematch. The Tigers were playing without forward Justin Safford, who tore his ACL against Colorado on Wednesday.