SE: Men's Basketball Opens Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship Play
K-State men’s basketball embarks on a new journey this evening. The Wildcats (16-15, 5-13 Big 12) begin postseason play in Kansas City, Missouri, and are set to take on Oklahoma State (12-19, 3-15 Big 12) in the first round of the 2016 Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship. Tonight’s game between the eighth-seeded Wildcats and the No. 9-seed Cowboys tips off at 6 p.m., in Sprint Center and will be aired nationally on ESPNU.
“We’re really trying to keep a clear mind,” said freshman guard Barry Brown on Monday afternoon. “We’re not worried about what happened in conference play or the regular season. From here on out we’re just thinking about winning and seeing where we can go from there.”
With tonight’s game on the horizon, the Wildcats know the past – filled with heartbreaking losses – is the past and the team has high hopes to make a run in this year’s conference championship tournament.
It all starts tonight against the Cowboys.
“We’re very motivated right now to go in there and do some things,” said junior forward Wesley Iwundu. “I feel very confident that we can go in and do good things. We’re just taking it game by game; it’s not going to be easy, but we’re looking forward to it. (The Sprint Center) is a great venue. It’ll be exciting.”
In the regular season, K-State and Oklahoma State split their series with both teams winning on their respective home courts. The first time the two teams matched up, Jan. 23, in Bramlage Coliseum, K-State won heftily by a score of 89-73. It was K-State’s best shooting performance of the season as five Wildcats scored in double figures that night. The team’s 89 points were a season-high in Big 12 play.
Despite the hot-shooting performance the first time around, the Wildcats’ offense didn’t produce at the same level in the second matchup on Feb. 13, in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Shooting just 36.7 percent from the field (18-of-49), K-State fell to the Cowboys, 58-55, in overtime.
“They have a good mix of veteran players between (Justin) Edwards and D.J. Johnson, then (Weber) has mixed in some really good, solid freshmen who are going to be some great Big 12 players in the future,” said Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford earlier this week on the Big 12 Coaches Teleconference. “They have a really good mix of guys, and they’re a very tough, aggressive basketball team. They beat us pretty good at their place, then we barely hung on at home to get a win, so we know we’re going to have to play extremely well.”
Both teams enter the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship coming off losses to end the regular season as K-State lost, 81-70, at Texas Tech on Saturday, while the Cowboys, currently on a six-game losing streak, fell, 62-50, to Texas on Friday.
“They’ve continued to battle,” said Weber about Oklahoma State. “They control tempo, and they make you guard. They do play solid defense, they’ve done that all year, so they don’t give you a lot of easy baskets. They’ll make you earn things.”
No stranger to the Sprint Center, K-State has already played two games in the building this season. The Wildcats took down Missouri, 66-42, in the opening round of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic on Nov. 23, but lost, 80-70, to then-No. 9 North Carolina in a closely-contested game the following day. Both Weber and his team said, with the venue’s proximity to Manhattan, that they’re excited to see K-State fans in the stands tonight and hope to play off their energy.
“Our focus has to be about our team, about being a good teammate and doing your job, that’s the biggest thing,” continued Weber. “They just have to come out and play. Playing in Kansas City gives us a little advantage. We’ve played two games there (this season). I hope we have good fan support, I expect that, so they’ll add some energy and I think that will help us a lot.”
Heading into tonight’s game, the Wildcats are led by senior Justin Edwards, who is averaging a team-best 12.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Edwards is joined in double digits by Iwundu, who is averaging 11.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, while D.J. Johnson, averaging 9.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, is not far behind.
As a matter of fact, Johnson has been playing his best basketball of the season as of recent as in the Wildcats’ past 11 games he has averaged a team-best 13.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
Tonight’s sold-out contest will be called by Jon Sciambi (play-by-play) and Miles Simon (analyst) on ESPNU, while fans can also listen to the game on the K-State Sports Network with Wyatt Thompson (play-by-play) and Stan Weber (analyst) on the call.
“We want to make a lot of noise; it’s March, anything can happen,” said freshman forward Dean Wade. “I want to go into this tournament, play well and get a couple upsets out there. It’s going to be a good time.”
The winner of tonight’s game will take on No. 1 seed Kansas on Thursday at 1:30 p.m.
For game notes, a fan guide, team statistics and more information on tonight’s Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship matchup, please click here.