Coming off of a school-record 29 wins and an Elite Eight appearance in last season’s NCAA Tournament, the preseason expectations for the Kansas State men's basketball team were high. The Wildcats were picked to win the Big 12 Conference and, with the exception of a game against then-No. 1 Duke, do well in its nonconference schedule.
But Kansas State found itself in a bind when Jacob Pullen, the Wildcats star player, as well as forward Curtis Kelly, were suspended for three games by the NCAA for receiving impermissible benefits in connection with the purchase of clothing at a Manhattan department store. In the first of those games, Kansas State was upset by UNLV. In addition to another nonconference loss to Florida and the loss to Duke, Kansas State entered Big 12 play with three losses.
No. 21 Kansas State Wildcats (13-5, 1-2)
at No. 15 Missouri Tigers (15-3, 1-2)
WHEN: 4:30 p.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM
Then the Wildcats began the Big 12 season by losing at Oklahoma State, then at home to Colorado.
So after such high preseason expectations, it is a surprise that Kansas State is coming into Mizzou Arena on Monday with five losses. Still, Missouri isn't expecting to have an easy time with the Wildcats, especially after the game Kansas State had against Texas Tech on Saturday in Manhattan.
After building a 52-26 halftime lead, the Wildcats finished off the Red Raiders for a 94-60 victory. Jamar Samuels had 22 points and Pullen scored 21, while Rodney McGruder added 16 points and 15 rebounds. Kansas State shot 53.1 percent from the floor and 59.1 percent from 3-point range.
Missouri guard Michael Dixon Jr. said that with the amount of athleticism on Kansas State’s roster, the Wildcats will give Missouri one of its toughest tests of the season.
“He (Pullen) really likes to shoot it a lot, so if you give him space, he can hurt you,” Dixon said. “He’s extremely confident, walks around with a sense of accomplishment and you can’t let a guy like that get going early.”
Before Saturday's win, Kansas State coach Frank Martin said that because of the toughness of the Big 12, his team cannot focus on the team’s previous losses, but only look ahead.
“I’ve turned the page, so they better turn the page too,” Martin said in a teleconference following the Oklahoma State loss. “In the last four years, I don’t think I’ve ever dwelled on what happened yesterday for a minute, so I don’t expect that to change today."
Samuels said strong practice ahead of the Texas Tech game helped produce a return of K-State's "savage mentality."
"Just the energy we had, we used that during this game," Pullen said. "We tried not to walk, not to go in slow motion like we've been."
The Wildcats got right to work Saturday. Pullen made two 3-pointers to ignite the fast start, and the Wildcats led 17-4 with 14:27 left in the half. Samuels had eight points during the spurt.
“The Big 12 is 16 games," Pullen said. "We lost our first two. Nothing says we can't win the rest.”
— the Associated Press contributed