MANHATTAN, Kan. — “Next man up” is more than a slogan for Kansas State. On Saturday night, it was the recipe for success.
The Wildcats used a 38-2 advantage in bench scoring to defeat No. 15 Iowa State 80-73 at Bramlage Coliseum and forge a four-way tie for second place in the Big 12 Conference.
“It’s been our strength,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “It doesn’t matter who comes in. We probably didn’t do a good enough job as a coaching staff (earlier in the season) of subbing and having faith in the guys.
“We aren’t very good offensively sometimes when we substitute too much, but we play with such energy on defense that we get stops. We feel comfortable with 10 deep.”
No place was the bench’s contribution bigger than on the free-throw line, where the reserves were 9 of 10. Kansas State (20-9, 10-6), the worst free-throw shooting team in the conference, hit 23 of 29 from the line against Iowa State.
“When Jevon (Thomas) made two, you knew we were cut in,” Weber said. “You have to give Jevon a little credit. It hasn’t been easy for him.
“Free throws were huge. That’s usually (Iowa State’s) strength. But we were able to stay close with them.”
Every bench point was necessary for the Wildcats. Iowa State (22-6, 10-6) got 54 points from two players — 30 from forward Melvin Ejim and 24 from guard DeAndre Kane.
“He (Ejim) had a ton of energy,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “To go out and have 30 and 16 (rebounds) on the road is a pretty big-time performance.”
But a brief lack of judgment limited Ejim when it counted most. Early in the second half after he hit a 3-point shot to cut the lead to one point, he was called for a technical foul for taunting. It was just his second foul, but he picked up two more and had to sit for a while with 7:55 left.
“That’s something he’s got to refrain from doing,” Hoiberg said. “We need him on the floor. That’s two (games) in a row where he hasn’t been able to be out there because of a technical.”
Ejim was forlorn after the game.
“I thought people were OK hitting 3’s and celebrating, but when I do it it’s frowned upon,” he said. “I don’t know what the deal is. It’s unfortunate because that’s two points they got, and I had four fouls and had to sit out. It’s a tough play because I kind of put myself out of the game.”
The Wildcats were led by guard Shane Southwell’s 13 points. Forwards Thomas Gipson and D.J. Johnson added 12 each and forward Wesley Iwundu and guard Marcus Foster each had 11.
“We’re not skipping a heartbeat when the second group comes in,” Gipson said of the bench’s contribution. “D.J. plays extremely hard. At times (the bench) gives our team a boost of energy.”
The Wildcats defeated their fifth straight ranked opponent at home. K-State’s win enabled Kansas to win the conference title. K-State is tied with Iowa State, Oklahoma and Texas but holds tiebreakers for the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.
Kansas State was able to withstand big-time foul trouble. The Wildcats had four players, including three starters, pick up two fouls in the first half. Foster, K-State’s leading scorer, picked up his third and took his two points to the bench with 17:51 left in the second half. Will Spradling picked up his third three minutes later.
Ejim picked up three fouls in the second half, including the technical, and had to take his 27 points to the bench with four fouls and the Cyclones clinging to a 62-60 lead.
Kansas State scored the next five points, but Iowa State tied it with 2:00 left when guard Monte Morris hit a 3-point shot. The Wildcats scored the next seven points, including four free throws, to clinch the game.
Foster picked up his fourth foul with 4:19 remaining. Spradling picked up his fourth 36 seconds later.
Kansas State used a 16-0 run early in the first half to turn a five-point deficit into a 20-9 lead. Southwell had three 3-pointers in the run.
Iowa State gradually chipped away
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