KANSAS CITY – Kansas State is a desperate team playing for an NCAA tournament berth that could save coach Bruce Weber’s job.
That’s precisely the kind of team No. 9 Baylor didn’t want to see in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.
With Barry Brown scoring 21 points and D.J. Johnson hitting 13, sixth-seeded Kansas State pulled off the 70-64 upset over the third-seeded Bears on Thursday night at the Sprint Center.
“I knew they were going to come out with a lot of intensity because this was a big game for them as far as the NCAA tournament,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “I thought they answered the bell and they won this game. It didn’t matter what anyone was seeded. They made the plays. They earned it.”
The Wildcats (20-12) advanced to the semifinals against No. 2 West Virginia, a 63-53 winner over Texas in the quarterfinals Thursday night. Meanwhile, the Bears (25-7) will find out Sunday if a one-and-done performance in the Big 12 tournament will hurt their seeding when the NCAA tournament bids are handed out.
Baylor got some inspiration from point guard Manu Lecomte who didn’t start but hit five of seven shots and scored 13 points in his first appearance since Feb. 25 against Iowa State after missing the last two games with a sprained ankle.
But he believes the Bears will have to play much better in the NCAA tournament to have a shot at advancing.
“We just need to learn from this game,” Lecomte said. “We’ve just got to go home and watch film and get better as a team. We honestly don’t care about what seed we’re going to get. If you play like that, it won’t matter. We’ve just got to get better. And whoever we play, we’ve got to bring our ‘A’ game.”
After going into halftime tied 25-25, the Wildcats shot 65 percent in the second half and got big performances from Brown and Johnson.
The Wildcats took command of the game with a 12-4 run to open up a 45-37 lead with 8:57 remaining.
With the game tied 33-33, Johnathan Motley’s basket was nullified when the replays showed he shot the ball after the 30-second shot clock expired.
Kamau Stokes then found Isaiah Maurice for a dunk and Stokes followed by scoring on a drive. With Brown’s 3-pointer, the Wildcats grabbed a 40-33 lead with 11:55 remaining.
Al Freeman scored on a layup and Nuni Omot hit a pair of free throws for the Bears. But Brown struck again for the Wildcats as he nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner, drew a foul from Omot and hit the free throw for a four-point play to give Kansas State a 44-37 lead with 9:34 remaining.
“Our offense wasn’t the problem in the second half,” said Baylor guard Jake Lindsey, who dished out 11 assists. “They blasted us on defense. I was not good enough. We fell for pump fakes on guys who were drivers. We didn’t guard the ball. We didn’t fight for post position.”
Lecomte who hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored another basket to cut Kansas State’s lead to 51-46. Drew said Lecomte tweaked his ankle and didn’t want to risk playing him in the final few minutes.
“He was playing well and stepped on someone’s foot or stubbed it a little bit,” Drew said. “We saw him start to limp and I know he wanted to stay in, but we obviously need him healthy for next week.”
The Wildcats scored six straight points as Brown hit a pair of free throws, Wesley Iwundu scored on a layup and Johnson got inside for a basket to push Kansas State’s lead to 57-46 with 4:09 remaining.
Pressing and trapping, the Bears made a late push as Motley scored inside twice and Freeman got loose for a layup to cut Kansas State’s lead to 62-57 with a minute remaining.
But Johnson nailed a pair of free throws with 59 seconds remaining. Freeman hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 64-60 before the Wildcats closed out the game with free throws
Freeman led the Bears with 16 points while Motley matched Lecomte with 13 points. But the Bears had trouble scoring after grabbing offensive rebounds.
“It was very frustrating because we usually do a good job of capitalizing on offensive rebounds,” Motley said. “But credit to Kansas State because they did an awesome job in the paint.”
Baylor’s defense allowed the Wildcats to hit a 52.3 overall field goal percentage while nailing six of 14 3-pointers and 18 of 27 free throws.
Baylor’s offense couldn’t get into a solid groove as it made nine turnovers in the first half and went into halftime with a 25-25 tie.
Motley got inside twice for early baskets and Lindsey found a clear lane to the basket for a layup.
After missing the last two games with a sprained ankle, Lecomte came into the game with 15:53 left in the first half and quickly drained a 3-pointer to give the Bears a 13-8 lead.
But Isaiah Maurice got inside three straight times for baskets as the Wildcats took as 14-13 lead.
Baylor’s Jo Lual-Acuil was then called for a technical after blocking Maurice’s shot and Stokes hit both free throws.
The Bears regained the lead when Freeman buried a trey with 6:10 left in the first half, but the Wildcats took it back when Brown hit a 3-pointer for a 21-20 edge.
Lindsey once again gave Baylor a lift with a 3-pointer with a minute remaining before Iwundu scored on a drive to the baskets to make it 25-25 at halftime.