MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP)—Sherron Collins winced through back spasms all night, only to have it flare up at the worst possible moment. He limped off the floor and started contorting his body, drinking electrolytes—anything to get the pain to stop.
It did, and just in time.
Collins returned from a debilitating bout with back spasms to score on a hard drive with 9 seconds left in overtime, helping No. 2 Kansas pull out a gritty 81-79 win over No. 11 Kansas State on Saturday night.
“He has a flair for the dramatic,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
The Jayhawks (20-1, 6-0 Big 12) needed it for their second shot at No. 1 this season.
After dismantling Missouri on Monday, Kansas closed out the rivalry week sweep by winning an epic back-and-forth battle with Kansas State (17-4, 4-3).
Cole Aldrich had 18 points and 13 rebounds and Marcus Morris finished with a double-double of his own (13-10), giving the Jayhawks a two-game Big 12 lead and a likely No. 1 ranking after Kentucky’s loss to South Carolina. Collins finished with 16 points for Kansas, which is 31-2 against Kansas State since the inception of the Big 12 in 1996.
None were bigger than his final two.
The senior hit the floor hard with 2:44 left in overtime and gingerly walked to the bench, where he grimaced as a trainer worked on his back. Collins worked out the kinks, so to speak, then returned just in time to score on a baseline drive, also being fouled on the play. He missed the free throw, but Aldrich grabbed the rebound and Brady Morningstar hit two free throws to close out the Jayhawks’ 26th win in their last 27 games in Manhattan.
“It was crazy. I just wanted the ball in my hand,” Collins said. “I knew I could make a play, I just kept cramping the whole game. Once I got the cramps out of the way, I was fine.”
Kansas State had its chances.
The best one came at the end of regulation, when Collins, still wrought with cramps, turned the ball over with the game tied at 69. Dominique Sutton ended up with the ball in his hands and was streaking for the winning hoop, but Tyrel Reed chased him down for a strip at the buzzer.
Kansas State trailed by one going into the final seconds of overtime, but couldn’t stop Collins or block out Aldrich when it counted. Jacob Pullen had 22 points and Denis Clemente added 13 on 4 of 15 shooting for the Wildcats.
“We had some possessions that we needed to capitalize and we didn’t,” said Pullen, who spent part of the first half retching into a garbage can behind Kansas State’s bench. “We had some opportunities to really put them on their heels and try to make them fold, and we weren’t able to take advantage of them.”
Kansas State had already proven it can win big games. The Wildcats have beaten four ranked teams, including two in nonconference for the first time since 1958-59. The biggest was a 71-62 win over Texas two weeks ago, when the Wildcats muscled the Longhorns out of the No. 1 spot.
The win over the Longhorns, one of the program’s biggest, had Bramlage Coliseum shaking from start to finish. Hard as it might be to imagine, the “Octagon of Doom” was filled with more (purple) juice for the Jayhawks.
For one, it was KU. Of all the games on the schedule, Kansas is the one team everyone in the Little Apple loves to hate. The teams have been meeting since 1907, one of the longest-running rivalries in college basketball, and this game had the added drama of being the first since 1958 where both were ranked in the top 15.
The fans had extra time to get lubed for the game, too; ESPN shot its college basketball show inside Bramlage, where more than 8,100 purple patrons yelled and screamed for the cameras before noon.
By the time the game rolled around, they were ready to burst like the balloons and beach balls that floated around the gym.
It was the worth the wait.
Shaking off some early-game jitters, the Jayhawks and Wildcats settled into a rhythm, playing like you’d expect from two top 15 teams. It had all the typical ingredients of a rivalry game, too; the bumping and banging, emotional swings with seemingly every possession.
Neither team led by more than eight in a game that included 20 lead changes and 14 ties, setting up a fittingly tense finish.
“From a fan’s perspective, I don’t think you can complain about anything,” Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. “If there’s ever been a better college atmosphere, I’ve never even seen one remotely close to it. From a game perspective, I don’t think you’ll get a better basketball game than that, either.”