Barry Brown had 21 points, D.J. Johnson added 13 and Kansas State topped ninth-ranked Baylor 70-64 in the Big 12 Tournament on Thursday night, clinching not only a spot in the semifinals but most likely a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
It was the second time the sixth-seeded Wildcats (20-12) have beaten the Bears (25-7) this season, giving them precisely the kind of marquee victory that the selection committee favors.
They'll get a chance for another against No. 11 West Virginia in Friday night’s semifinals.
The No. 3 seed Bears got within 64-60 on Al Freeman’s 3-pointer with 50 seconds to go, but they were forced to keep sending Brown to the foul line. The sophomore guard, who’s been mediocre there all season, made six of eight down the stretch to seal the Wildcats’ third straight win.
Freeman had 16 points to lead Baylor. Johnathan Motley and Manu Lecomte had 13 points apiece.
Neither team gave an inch in a first-half dominated by defense.
The Bears kept slapping the Wildcats with their trademark zone, forcing them into taking long jumpers deep in the shot-clock. Kansas State countered with a suffocating man-to-man that not only produced nine first-half turnovers but forced Baylor into a plethora of rushed shots.
The strategy for the Wildcats was simple– keep Motley, the Bears’ All-Big 12 forward, from getting looks inside and Lecomte, one of the league’s top newcomers, from getting looks outside.
Not surprisingly, the teams played to a 25-all draw after 20 minutes.
It was still tied at 33 when the Wildcats began to assert themselves midway through the second half, and again it was their defense that got things started. They forced Baylor into another shot-clock violation, and Isaiah Maurice followed with a dunk that brought a pro-Kansas State crowd to life.
Kamau Stokes hit a bucket moments later, Brown poured in a 3 as the shot-clock was about to expire, then he added a four-point play that gave Kansas State a 44-37 lead with 9 1/2 minutes left.
The Wildcats had pushed it to 60-51 when Motley scored inside with 2:20 to go. The Bears slapped on some pressure and forced a turnover, Freeman made two free throws, then more full-court pressure created another turnover that led to another basket for Motley and trimmed it to 60-55 with 1:40 left.
But after weathering yet more pressure, the Wildcats got the ball to Stokes at the other end, and his wiggling, off-balance shot with just over a minute left fell to give them a cushion.
Brown and the Wildcats held on the rest of the way from the foul line.
Snyder in the stands
Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder took in the game from an aisle seat several rows behind the Wildcats’ bench. The 77-year-old Snyder has been undergoing treatment for throat cancer but expects to be on the field when the Wildcats begin spring practices later this month.
Kansas State not only helped its NCAA Tournament hopes, it may have saved coach Bruce Weber’s job with the win. Weber has been on the hot seat after missing out on the dance the past two years.
Baylor had reached the Big 12 Tournament semifinals each of the past three seasons, but this time joined top-seeded Kansas in heading home early. Kansas lost to TCU earlier in the day.
Kansas State gets the Mountaineers on Friday night.
Baylor heads back to Waco to await Selection Sunday.
KANSAS ST. (20-12): Wade 0-3 0-0 0, Iwundu 4-9 0-0 8, Johnson 4-4 5-6 13, Stokes 3-9 3-4 9, Brown 4-6 9-13 21, Maurice 4-6 0-0 8, Sneed 2-3 1-4 6, Ervin 2-4 0-0 5. Totals 23-44 18-27 70.
BAYLOR (25-7): Lual-Acuil 4-11 0-2 8, Motley 6-12 1-5 13, McClure 0-1 0-0 0, Wainright 3-7 0-0 7, Lindsey 2-4 0-0 5, Maston 0-0 0-0 0, Omot 0-1 2-2 2, Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0, Lecomte 5-7 0-0 13, Freeman 5-12 4-4 16. Totals 25-55 7-13 64.
Halftime—25-25. 3-Point Goals—Kansas St. 6-14 (Brown 4-4, Sneed 1-2, Ervin 1-2, Wade 0-1, Iwundu 0-2, Stokes 0-3), Baylor 7-17 (Lecomte 3-4, Freeman 2-6, Wainright 1-2, Lindsey 1-2, Lual-Acuil 0-1, Motley 0-1, McClure 0-1). Fouled Out—Motley. Rebounds—Kansas St. 20 (Johnson 7), Baylor 32 (Lual-Acuil 11). Assists—Kansas St. 12 (Stokes 5), Baylor 18 (Lindsey 11). Total Fouls—Kansas St. 15, Baylor 21. Technicals—Lual-Acuil.