MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP)—For a better start than this one, Kansas State has to go way, way back.
Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly sparked a huge run in the first half and the 12th-ranked Wildcats swamped Cleveland State 85-56 on Tuesday night for their ninth straight victory. The 12-1 start ties the 1958-59 team for second-best in school history. The only thing in school annals that was better was a 17-0 getaway in 1918-19.
“It means a lot to be a part of something special,” said Dominique Sutton, who had 13 points and was one of five double-figure scorers. “Going back two years ago, nobody thought we would turn out to be this good because Mike (Beasley) and Bill (Walker) were gone. It just shows all the hard work we’ve put in through the summers and the hard practices that we had, it’s paying off for us.”
Pullen had 18 points and Kelly added 17 as the Wildcats closed out an unbeaten December with their first nine-game win streak since 1997. Denis Clemente also had 13 points for the Wildcats, who have reached their highest national ranking since the end of the 1972-73 season.
Enthusiasm for this team that was picked no higher than fourth in the Big 12 preseason poll is spreading. Even though students are on Christmas break, a sellout crowd of 12,528 jammed Bramlage Coliseum.
“Our fans are unbelievable,” coach Frank Martin said. “It makes me proud that on Dec. 29, understanding the places that our fans come from to get to these games, on a Tuesday night we packed this place. That’s rewarding to our players.”
Kansas State, unbeaten since dropping an 86-74 decision to Mississippi on Nov. 20, outscored the Vikings 25-5 in the run that led to a 40-19 halftime lead. The Vikings (4-10), facing a ranked team for the school-record third straight game, went almost 8 minutes without a field goal and never got back in a game that was so physical Jeremy Montgomery knocked Pullen to the floor twice within a few seconds but got only one foul.
“There were a couple of hard fouls,” Martin said. “But it’s basketball. I never thought there was anything cheap. Cheap is one thing. Physical is something else.”
Montgomery had 20 points for Cleveland State and Norris Cole had 17.
“We turned the ball over a lot,” Montgomery said. “We need to go back to practice and work on that.”
After Montgomery’s two free throws sliced the Wildcats’ lead to 15-14, Clemente canned a long 3-pointer that got a roar from the big crowd and then stole the ball on the other end and made two foul shots to get the run going.
Pullen added a 3-pointer, Kelly made two free throws and suddenly Kansas State held a 25-14 lead and the Vikings were en route to their 33rd loss in 38 games against ranked teams.
Kansas State quickly built the lead to 30 points in the second half when Wally Judge canned two free throws after a rough foul beneath the Wildcats’ basket. Montgomery answered with a 3-pointer but Pullen got the lead back to 30 a few minutes later when his pull-up jumper made it 58-28.
“Frank just put a good group of people together,” Pullen said. “We’re playing well off of each other. Whoever’s hot, we’re getting them the ball.”
Showing his athletic ability, the 6-foot Pullen reached in to steal the ball in front of the scorer’s table at one point, lost his balance and jumped flat-footed onto the table, then back onto the court.
Kansas State had all reserves on the court with about 2 1/2 minutes left. But after two straight turnovers, Martin ordered his starters back out.
Cleveland State’s aggressive defense forced 19 turnovers and each team had nine steals.
“They are playing very good at home and they have not lost at home this year,” Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said. “They are a very good team.”