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Pullen, Kelly Say Farewell with Win

By Mark Janssen

MANHATTAN, Kan. - They fought the pregame Senior Day tears, and lost; then they played the game, and won.

 In a day crammed with emotions, Kansas State seniors Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly concluded their Bramlage Coliseum career with a 67-55 victory over Iowa State.

With the win, K-State ties Texas A&M for third place at 10-6 in the Big 12 Conference and will be seeded No. 4 in the Big 12 Championship with their first game coming Thursday at 2 p.m. in Kansas City's Sprint Center. During the regular season, the Aggies defeated the Wildcats 64-56 to earn the tie-breaker.

"I understood it would be an emotional game, but the closer the game got the more you get to thinking about how fast it went by," said Pullen, who led the team in scoring with 17. "It was emotional, but at the same time you knew you had a job to do and there's a game to win. I was appreciative to my teammates who came out and played hard to get the 'W'."

Kelly added of his nerves, "I was excited. I knew it was my last game I was going to play in Bramlage, so I was excited."

Pullen played until the 20-second mark when he checked out of the game ... kissing the Powercat at center court before trotting to the Wildcat bench.

"It was spur of the moment," said Pullen, who now has 2,054 points, just 61 shy of Mike Evans' career mark of 2,115. "It's the last time I was going to play on that Powercat. It was the last time there were going to be three referees and a crowd of 15,000 people ... the last time I was going to shoot a 3, get an assist ... it was an emotional game for me the whole game."

By Pullen standards, his game was just decent. In fact, coach Frank Martin called his play "lethargic," but it was still No. 0 who stepped up scoring late free throws, plus a deep-corner 3-ball when the Cyclones had the game in single digits.

"He wins, he produces and he is accountable," said Martin of Pullen. And of both seniors, he added, "We were not very good collectively, but they did their jobs when they needed to. They figured out a way to get a win."

Pullen had 17 points, four rebounds, four assists, but also five turnovers; Kelly had 13 points with eight boards, two assists and one blocked shot before leaving the floor at the 41-second mark.

K-State's senior pair opened the game as any Senior Day game should open.

Before Iowa State could get a timeout called, K-State led 7-0 at the 18:21 mark. Kelly had two buckets and two rebounds, while Pullen had a trey and an assist. Kelly would end up with 13 points for his third straight twin-figure game.

POSTGAME CEREMONY: After K-State's win, a special video presentation was shown in honor of Pullen's career, and then comments from coach Frank Martin and Pullen, plus the Wildcat guard was presented a commemorative basketball of his accomplishments at K-State.

Calling the K-State fans, "Absolutely by far the best fans in the country," Martin talked about how Pullen challenged him at mid-season to be a better coach, and his teammates to be better players. He then added, "Losing is unacceptable, and losing at home should never happen."

The Wildcats went 16-1 at home this season, tying the most wins in a season at Bramlage Colieseum.

Martin mentioned how four years ago when he was hired as coach, "Jacob was the first to say I'm going to stick with you guys. I'm not changing my commitment."

Pullen then took his turn at thanking the K-State fans for "... an amazing experience. Had someone told me four years ago something like this would happen, I wouldn't have believed them."

Then as a thank you message to the fans, Pullen said his goal was "... three wins in three days in Kansas City."

STAR OF THE GAME: It was Senior Day, but freshman Will Spradling stepped up with a 13-point, 5-rebound, 4-assist and 2-steal performance. No shots were bigger than after ISU took its only lead of the game at 39-38 with 15:23 to go. In the next 2:58, K-State went on an 8-0 surge with Spradling hitting three free throws, plus a long ball.

Martin referred to him as "a little skinny freshman who continues to battle, fight and compete. He's gotten so much better of understanding our concepts, and then on offense he doesn't turn it over."

STAT OF THE GAME: K-State's bench out-scored ISU's reserves 22-13 with Spradling scoring 13, Jordan Henriquez-Roberts five and Devon Peterson four.

Martin went as far to say, "We don't win the ballgame today without Devon Peterson."

NEXT WEEK IN KANSAS CITY: The Big 12 Championships begin at the Sprint Center in Kansas City on Wednesday. As the No. 4 seed, K-State's first game will be on Thursday at 2 p.m. against the winner between the No. 5 and 12 seeds.

The semi-finals will be on Friday at 6 p.m. with K-State and Kansas in the same bracket. The finals will be on Saturday at 5 p.m.

The Wildcats roll into the event winners of six in a row and eight of the last nine to earn the first-round bye.

"That's important," said Martin of only having to play three games. "If you're only going to win a game, and improve the resume, then who cares. But when one of your goals is to win the league tournament, it's easier to do three (wins) in three (days), than four in four. It's impossible to win four in four days in this league.

"Our goal is to compete for the Big 12 championship. If we can put ourselves in that conversation, we're good enough to beat anyone else in the country," Martin said. "That's how we look at it."

K-State played Kansas for the title last year, but lost 72-64 in the title game.

GAME NOTES:
Pullen has now been on teams that have won 94 games, which is one shy of the record of Luis Colon and Chris Merriewether, who were a part of 95 wins during their four-year careers.

Jordan Henriquez-Roberts' game continues to grow as the 7-foot sophomore had five points, seven rebounds, five blocked shots, three steals and an assist. He now has 41 blocked shots as a sophomore, which is the most for a sophomore in K-State history.

"He continues to grow. Like I always say, when your practice habits are good, you get a game opportunity to perform. You build trust and I've developed trust in him. He's protecting the rim for us."

ISU shot the ball 62 times to K-State's 47 shot attempts. BUT, the Cyclones netted just 37 percent, which included a frigid 4-of-23 (.174) from 3-point range. K-State shot 47 percent, which included 41 percent from deep.

K-State has now defeated ISU in 10 of the last 11 meetings.

The Wildcats finished its home season at 16-1 to tie the record for most wins in a season previously set in 2008-09. The one loss was to Colorado, 74-66.

LATEST FROM LUNARDI: It changes daily, but one thing is for sure ... K-State is climbing the bracketology charts. From being out of The Big Dance a month ago, K-State has gone from a 12-seed, to a 10-seed, and now a 6-seed in ESPN's bracketologist Joe Lunardi's March 4 bracket.

The Wildcats are being paired with 11-seed Georgia, who is coached by former K-State assistant Mark Fox.

Also in from the Big 12 are No. 1 seeded Kansas, No. 2 Texas, No. 7 Texas A&M and No. 8 Missouri.

Other teams from the league, however, are playing themselves out of the tourney as Colorado and Baylor are among the "First Four Out" and Nebraska is on the "Next Four Out" list.
    

We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact either Mark Janssen at mjanssen7@cox.net, or Kansas State Director of Athletic Communications/SID Kenny Lannou at klannou@kstatesports.com. For those who would like to share Sports Extra with a friend or family member, or change your current email address, click here.