MANHATTAN, Kan. — No. 8 Kansas saw its Big 12 Conference lead slip to a half-game over Iowa State with a loss in an unlikely place.
Kansas State got a career-high 20 points from guard Nigel Johnson and beat the Jayhawks 70-63 Monday night in Bramlage Coliseum. It was the Wildcats’ second consecutive home win over Kansas, but only their fourth in 27 all-time meetings at Bramlage Coliseum.
“We don’t have a margin for error,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Kansas State (14-15, 7-9 Big 12) played with a fire that was missing for much of the season. The Wildcats, losers of seven of their previous eight games, never trailed by more than eight points and finished the game on an 18-9 run.
“(The Wildcats) played great,” Self said. “One reason they played great is they were playing us. They responded very well to the energy level in the building.
“Nigel carried them offensively. I don’t know what he was in the league from (3-point range), but he goes four of five and has a monster game for them.”
Kansas State coach Bruce Weber was relieved that his team finally came ready to play.
“Obviously, after last week, this is a huge win for our guys,” he said, referencing the Wildcats’ road losses to TCU and Baylor. “I just asked them to forget about what happened before and not worry about what’s going to happen in the future. Just think about today and enjoy the moment. I talked a lot about being special.
“I’m happy for these (players), but I’m really happy for K-State, because I know how important this is.”
Kansas (22-6, 11-4) opened the second half on an 11-2 run to reverse a one-point deficit and take a 41-33 lead, the Jayhawks’ largest of the game. However, the Wildcats kept chipping away. They tied the score at 47-47 on Johnson’s 3-pointer with just over 11 minutes remaining.
“Yesterday Coach harped on us, ‘Somebody be special,'” Kansas State forward Nino Williams said. “Nigel was special tonight. It was a good team win.”
The Wildcats used an 8-0 run to take a 60-54 advantage with just over six minutes remaining, and they never trailed again. Williams scored seven of the Kansas State’s final 10 points.
The game carries special significance for Kansas forward Perry Ellis, a native of Wichita, Kan. He controlled both ends of the floor in the first half, scoring 15 points, including Kansas’ first nine, and grabbing four rebounds.
“Being from Kansas adds a little bit to the game,” said Ellis, who finished with 24 points and nine rebounds. “But every game I try to come out and play hard.”
Kansas State kept Ellis from getting the ball in critical situations down the stretch.
“He was going to be aggressive playing K-State,” Self said. “He likes to play K-State.
“We did a good job getting him the ball (in the first half), and he finished for us. In the second half, he kind of disappeared the last 10 minutes. They did a good job on him.”
Williams finished with 15 points, and Kansas State forward Thomas Gipson added 12 points and a team-high six rebounds.
Jayhawks guard Kelly Oubre Jr. had 14 points and seven rebounds.
Kansas has two home games in a row, against Texas on Saturday and West Virginia on March 3, before concluding the season at Oklahoma. The Jayhawks won or shared the conference regular-season title each of the past 10 years, and if they want to keep that streak going, they must finish strong.
“We’ve got two out of three at home,” Self said. “Iowa State’s got a hard schedule left, but they’re playing really well now. It wouldn’t surprise me at all for them to run the table.
“I know they come here Saturday. Hopefully K-State will play like they did tonight.”
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NOTES: The Jayhawks finished with twice as many offensive rebounds as the Wildcats, 14-7. Kansas ended with a 37-30 rebounding margin overall. … The Wildcats outshot the Jayhawks from the floor, 47.2 percent to 39.3 percent. … Kansas State earned a fifth win in its past 54 meetings with Kansas. … Even though Kansas State has won four of the past eight meetings with the Jayhawks,