A common theme for many of these watch party games is achieving the unexpected. Anybody who claims to have expected the K-State football team to trounce Oklahoma in the 2003 Big 12 Championship game is either a foolhardy optimist or a baldfaced liar. Anyone who “knew” Jabob Pullen would pour in 38 points to beat No. 1 Kansas after the Jayhawks had pounded K-State by 26 in Lawrence is posthumously faking powers of prognostication.
Tonight’s nostalgia game ranks right up there on the no-freakin’-way scale.
2015-2016 was the freshman season for three guys who would go on to accomplish some pretty major things in Manhattan. But Dean Wade, Barry Brown Jr. and Kamau Stokes had not arrived yet. Stokes had poured in 24 points in a near-upset of North Carolina in the CBE Classic, Wade had hit a clutch winning jumper on the road against Georgia, and Brown had scored 20 in a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to No. 19 West Virginia. But this was not their team yet. Wesley Iwundu was the closest thing to a star, and D.J. Johnson brought toughness to the floor and set an example for the young freshmen.
But the season was bobbing along, somewhere near mediocre. Stokes was sidelined with an injury, and Carlbe Ervin II was the starting point guard. Stephen Hurt started at center, Justin Edwards played big minutes off the bench, and walk-on Austin Budke got meaningful time and made meaningful contributions. The squad was competitive but came up just short maddeningly often. After rolling to a 7-1 start and threatening Roy Williams’s big, bad Tarheels until the closing minutes at Sprint Center, the Wildcats struggled to a 2-7 record to begin conference play and sat at 13-9 before their match-up with the Sooners.
Oklahoma, on the other hand, was 19-2 overall, 7-2 in conference play, and had just been anointed the No. 1 team in the country earlier in the week. Buddy Hield was in the discussion for national player of the year, and Coach Lon Kruger’s team was a scoring juggernaut.
But there was a secret that the Sooners did not know. The previous two teams to enter Bramlage Coliseum with the nation’s top ranking—Kansas on Valentine’s Day, 2011 and Texas on January 18, 2010—had left with a loss. On February 6, 2016, the Cats would make it three in a row.
How excited were the fans? Coach Weber claims he believed all along that his team would win the game. So certain was he that the team practiced running to mid-court after the final buzzer, in anticipation of a court-storming.
The storming never happened. After starting in a 9-0 hole, the Cats had chipped away, taken a lead at halftime, squandered it, then quickly built a new lead that they maintained through most of the second half, sucking the drama out of the contest. The final buzzer was anticlimax. Sure, the crowd celebrated. But they kept their seats.
The Cats could not sustain the momentum of the big win, unfortunately. They finished 17-16, 5-13 in the Big 12 and missed the post-season. But they laid a foundation to get back to the tournament and to compete in the Big 12, and this game showed they had the pieces to get it done.
Watch the coming-out party with us at 7:00 Central Daylight Time.