In one of the most thrilling basketball games I've ever personally attended, K-State lost a heartbreaker to hated in-state rival KU, 81-79, in overtime.
Put simply, the Octagon of Doom was electric last night, easily the best atmosphere I've been a part of in that building. The play of both teams was up to the occasion, as well, with both teams trading blows before Sherron Collins landed the haymaker in overtime to put the home team on the mat.
There's a lot that can, and will, be said about this game, but I'm going to lead my comments off with this simple admission. That team we played last night is just really damn good, and there are no two ways around it. In the last two weeks, KU has really raised its level of play, and it shows. If that team isn't in the Final Four, it will take a monumental upset.
Anyway, let's move on to some analysis of the game. Hit the jump.
What I liked:
The officiating. Yeah, I said it. After the game, I stopped and chatted with ksubailey, and we both agreed that it was one of the best-officiated games we've seen, certainly this year. A couple things go into this for me. First, for the most part, the officials let the players play, a few questionable handchecks notwithstanding. A grand total of 49 fouls were called in the game. In short, they made the obvious calls, didn't let Cole Aldrich and the Morris twins get away with murder -- and vice versa with K-State's frontcourt -- and generally kept the game in control.
Second, and I loved the part even if it hurt us a few times, but they forced the players to earn calls. As an official, you shouldn't bail an offensive player out of a bad play unless the defensive player makes a similarly stupid play by committing an obvious foul. In particular, I'm thinking of a play late in the game when Dominique Sutton drove to the hoop, got a tad out of control, and flailed the ball away, hoping for a call. He didn't get one, and the crowd predictably booed because they wanted Alrdich's fifth called. First of all, Aldrich didn't commit a foul, so it would have been a bad call had it been made. Second, the way Sutton got out of control, he didn't deserve to be bailed out. Had he gone hard to the rim, put a shoulder in Aldrich's chest -- shyeah, like he's gonna take a charge -- and forced the ref to make a call one way or the other, he would have either forced Aldrich to foul out, or he would have gotten a layup going at a player trying to avoid a foul.
Another play that illustrates this point is Sutton's drive at the end of the game (sorry, I'm really not trying to pick on Sutton here). I need to review this play on DVR in slow motion, but from seeing it in person and watching the replay on ESPN last night, the officials made the correct call. Maybe Tyrel Reed did foul him on the drive, but even if he did, it was with about 0.2 seconds on the clock. Sutton wouldn't even have got a shot off anyway, so calling a foul at that point would have just handed the game to us when the player didn't make a play to deserve it. I know he's not a great shooter, but I wish Dom would have just pulled up and tried to hit a jumper there. If so, great, we win and the place explodes. If not, we go to overtime.
Jake Pullen continuing to step up in big games. It's been a joy to watch Pullen grow up over the years. Two years ago, I watched him brick an ill-advised three-pointer at the end of a loss in Waco because he wasn't ready for primetime. Now, there's nobody I'd rather have take a big shot. He matched Collins blow for blow, including on the defensive end.
Fighting back from a second-half hole. It was clear that whatever adjustments Bill Self made at halftime worked. Not surprising, given that he's among the best Xs and Os coaches in the nation. KU came out hot and took an eight-point lead early in the second half. At that point, I started to fear that we may get run out of the gym. Instead, we clamped down, forced a few empty possessions on defense, and got some big buckets on the offensive end. It was the same moxie we saw in the Texas game and in Waco last weekend. Building a program is a process, and seemingly small things like that are a big part of it.
What I didn't like:
Losing. I'm not going to go into great detail about anything in particular here, because our guys left it all on the floor and played one of their better games this year. So I'll just offer this thought. Even though we lost yesterday, and even though it hurts like hell and it's frustrating as hell to lose to that school again, keep in mind the progress we've made in the last four years. I saw it all come full circle last night. My senior year (2006) was the last time I saw K-State play KU in Bramlage. I remembered it particularly last night because in 2006, we fell behind early by 10-15 and were down that margin most of the game if memory serves. In the second half, we made a run and cut the lead to two or three, at which point the arena went bonkers. Of course, then KU went on about a 10-0 run to reclaim the game.
Point is, back then we were thrilled just to be in the game in the second half after being three or four possessions behind most of the game. Now, we can go toe-to-toe with KU on our home court and have a legitimate chance to win.
What it means and where we're going:
With the win last night, KU has a choke hold on the regular season conference race. They're now 6-0, and with UT's loss to Baylor, are now two games clear of the nearest challenger. Any realistic hope we had of winning the regular season crown left on a bus back to Lawrence last night. However, with Texas' loss, we are still clearly in the mix for runner-up.
Of course, that all depends on us getting over this game quickly. Our upcoming schedule includes two games against Nebraska, two against Iowa State, and one each against Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Clearly, the conference schedule was front-loaded this year. Now, I'm not saying we're going to sweep those games, but that's seven games we have a very good chance at winning. Throw in a home game with Missouri, and we could very well go 7-1 in that stretch. If we do, we'll probably be the No. 2 seed in Kansas City.
Now, if we go to
hell on earth the Devaney Center on Tuesday and play like we just woke up from a two-day bender, then we can forget about that. It'll be one or the other, but I've learned to stop doubting these guys.