Those were the words of Kansas State senior guard Jacob Pullen to Kellis Robinett of the Kansas City Star on January 12th, but from that point forward neither Pullen nor the rest of his teammates had done much to avoid such a decision. That was until last night, when Pullen scored a career-high 38 points in Kansas State's 84-68 home win over top-ranked Kansas. Pullen made nine of seventeen shots from the field (5-6 3PT) and made a regular trek to the foul line as well, where he knocked down 15 of 19.
But in addition to Pullen there was another important performer, center Jordan Henriquez-Roberts. On a night that saw Curtis Kelly largely invisible (six points, four assists, five turnovers), Henriquez-Roberts scored eight of his 10 points in the first half while also finishing with five rebounds. For the game Kansas State shot 56% from the field, and with Thomas Robinson out and some of their most important players making bad decisions Kansas had little chance to escape with a victory.
"I thought they did a very good job of being physical," remarked Kansas head coach Bill Self. "They cut off all our angles on both ends of the floor. We did not have anyone play well. Our three juniors did not come to play tonight."
Kansas State scored 22 points off of 18 Kansas turnovers, also out-rebounding the Jayhawks 29-23 on a night that saw both Morrises struggle (Marcus- 13 points, three rebounds; Markieff- 3 points, no rebounds). Kansas shot just 37% in the second half, and considering the fact that they made 52% of their shots in the first half and still trailed by nine at the break it wasn't difficult to figure out that they were in for a long night. The loss likely drops Kansas from their perch atop the polls next Monday but of far more importance is that they're now two games behind first-place Texas in the Big 12 standings. And when the head-to-head result is factored in it's more like three games, meaning that their chances of winning the regular season crown may have dissolved in Manhattan.
The bigger question on the night is what the win means for Kansas State. While more than a few have put the Wildcats into the field of 68 thanks to the win, keep in mind that Monday's conquest is also their first win over a team in the RPI Top 50 this season. There's still plenty of work to be done, with two more opportunities for good wins (home vs. Missouri and at Texas) mixed in with games against Oklahoma, Nebraska (road) and Iowa State they need to avoid dropping. But when your fate is up in the air there's nothing a coach would rather see than his expected leader rising to the challenge, and Jacob Pullen did that last night.
"Jake has been playing good for a while now," said head coach Frank Martin. "He has been real good and is playing as a big-time point guard right now. I am happy that he had that type of night tonight." (quotes courtesy of Kansas State Athletics)
Other Notable Happenings
1. Brandon Triche puts forth one of his best performances in Syracuse's win over West Virginia.
Coming off of a loss at Louisville the Syracuse Orange needed a win to get back on track and retain hopes of possibly getting back into the race for a double-bye in the upcoming Big East Tournament. And they got just that on Monday night, beating West Virginia 63-52 behind 20 points from Brandon Triche and 16 from Kris Joseph. Casey Mitchell led the Mountaineers with a career-high 23 but the Orange proved to be too much on a night that saw both Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones (combined 3-for-14 FG) struggle from the field. But the problem for West Virginia is that nearly everyone struggled from two, as they made just six of 25 shots from inside the arc. And even when a team manages to knock down half of their three-point attempts (11-for-22), a loss is more than likely when putting forth a performance like that. As for Syracuse, the win means that 10 league wins is a good possibility with road games against Villanova and Georgetown sandwiched in between home games against Rutgers and DePaul. And if Triche can build on Monday's performance the Orange can get some things done in March as well.
2. There's now a three-way tie in the loss column atop the MEAC standings.
One of the tighter races in the mid-major ranks hasn't received much press, something that may be caused by the league's relative lack of national TV appearances outside of their weekly game on ESPNU. But the MEAC race will be an entertaining one to watch the remainder of the season, with three teams tied atop the standings with three losses apiece and another just one game behind with four. Hampton, who went into Monday night leading the conference, lost at North Carolina A&T to drop into a tie with Bethune-Cookman and Morgan State (the Bears have eight wins to Hampton and BCC's nine). And the changes are just in time as the Pirates host Bethune-Cookman on Saturday evening. Kwame Morgan II scored 27 points in Hampton's loss at A&T, and with more playing time the junior's raised his scoring some eight points per game this season. Meanwhile Bethune-Cookman made short work of UMES as C.J. Reed led five Wildcats in double figures with 21 points (Kevin Dukes and Dion Holloman combined for 30 off the bench). Hampton won the first meeting (in Daytona Beach) 68-56 on January 22nd, making Saturday all the more important to the Wildcats.
3. Texas Southern hangs on at Grambling to move to 11-1 in SWAC play.
The formula for many teams in the two HBCU conferences at the Division I level (MEAC and SWAC) is a simple one: hit the road for a number of guarantee games in November and December, with the hope being to not just line the athletic department's coffers but to set yourself up for a run at a conference championship. That's seemed to have worked well to this point for Texas Southern, who moved to 11-1 in the SWAC with a 51-49 win over Grambling State. Harrison Smith's layup with three seconds remaining won the game for the Tigers (Houston version), who nearly allowed a five-point lead with less than five minutes remaining slip away. Texas Southern won just two of eleven non-conference games, going 0-8 against teams ranked in the RPI Top 150. While that record may have "first round in Dayton" written all over it the overall benefits of such a schedule have Texas Southern atop the SWAC by two games in the loss column with six to go. And they already own a season sweep of Jackson State, meaning that taking care of business in the remainder of their games in addition to beating Mississippi Valley State (their lone league loss) on February 21st should be good enough to clinch at the very least an NIT bid.
Top Three Games
1. North Carolina Central 77, Coppin State 75 Nick Chasten's layup with less than a second remaining was the difference as North Carolina Central won the battle of the Eagles in Durham. C.J. Wilkerson led the home team with 21 points while Michael Harper scored the same to lead Coppin State.
2. Savannah State 65, Citadel 61 (OT) Jovonni Shuler knocked down a three-pointer to kick off a 7-0 run to start the extra session in the Tigers' win at The Citadel. Shuler finished with a game-high 24 points, and Zach Urbanus led the Bulldogs with 17.
3. Hawaii 69, Nevada 67 (OT) Vander Joaquim led the way with 24 points and nine rebounds as the Warriors knocked off the Wolf Pack. Jeremiah Ostrowski's shot with 21 seconds to go proved to be the difference in Honolulu. Deonte Burton led Nevada, who had two chances to either tie or win the game, with 21.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Jacob Pullen (Kansas State) 38 points in the Wildcats' 84-68 win over top-ranked Kansas.
2. F Kyle O'Quinn (Norfolk State) 20 points and 15 rebounds in the Spartans' 76-68 win over Howard.
3. C Vander Joaquim (Hawaii) 24 points and nine rebounds in the Warriors' 69-67 overtime win over Nevada.