OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)—Jacob Pullen got knocked to the floor, his hip aching and his Kansas State team stuck in an early hole on the same floor where the NCAA tournament’s biggest upset had just taken place.
When he refused to stay down, so did his Wildcats.
Pullen scored 20 of his career-high 34 points in the first half to help rally No. 2 seed Kansas State back from an early 10-point deficit, and the Wildcats turned away Jimmer Fredette and BYU 84-72 on Saturday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“I just couldn’t sit there and watch us play,” Pullen said. “Unless something was broken (or) I couldn’t walk, man, I would have gotten back up and tried to play.”
Behind Pullen’s standout effort on both ends of the floor, the Wildcats (28-7) are doing something they didn’t do even when No. 2 NBA draft pick Michael Beasley was on the team two years ago—moving into the third round of the NCAAs.
K-State coach Frank Martin and his athletic team will face the winner of Sunday’s game between No. 3 seed Pittsburgh and sixth-seeded Xavier next weekend in Salt Lake City. The last time the school made it that far came in 1988, when Mitch Richmond was completing his college career before moving on to the NBA.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Pullen said. “It’s a childhood dream. I’ve watched basketball my whole life. I watched all of the NCAA tournaments since I was a kid, so for me to be able to be in this position, I thank Frank all the time. It’s an amazing thing that he was able to give me the opportunity.
“My recruitment wasn’t crazy. I didn’t have a million schools knocking on my door. I had some mid-major schools and then I had Frank walking through my door and telling me I could play.”
Martin, the Wildcats’ fire-breathing coach, recalled how Pullen had been largely responsible for the Wildcats’ early exit from the tournament in Beasley’s only year at K-State. He was charged with stopping Wisconsin’s Trevon Hughes, who matched his career high with 25 points in a 72-55 rout.
But Pullen came back and accepted Martin’s discipline and structure, and committed to working hard to make the Wildcats better. Pullen called it his way of paying Martin back for believing in him.
“You live for the moment where you get around guys like him,” Martin said.
Pullen came alive with a scoring flurry shortly after he and Fredette got tangled up in transition in the first half, scoring Kansas State’s final 11 points of the first half to build 41-31 lead after the Wildcats had fallen behind 10-0 to start the game. BYU never got closer than five in the second half.
Pullen ended up surpassing 30 points for the third time in his career while matching a career best with seven 3-pointers. Equally as important was his physical defense against Fredette, who had scored 37 points to get the seventh-seeded Cougars (30-6) past Florida in double overtime in the first round.
Fredette finished with 21 points on 4-of-13 shooting, breaking his string of three straight games with at least 30 points.
Pullen said he had studied Fredette’s crossover move and his favorite tendencies, and he executed Martin’s plan to keep Fredette out of the middle of the floor.
“I just tried to remember all of the those little things to make sure that I kept him at arm’s distance,” Pullen said. “He’s a good player, though. He still found ways to score the ball. I give him a lot of credit because he’s an amazing scorer. He finds a way to score the ball, regardless of the defensive presence.”
When he wasn’t being hounded by Pullen, Fredette faced the kind of physical play he’d prepared for by playing a handful of games against inmates at upstate New York prisons.
Fredette took shots to his face and head at least three times in the game, including a midcourt run-in with Denis Clemente that left him grabbing at his nose to check for blood. Fredette also got smacked in the face in transition after a K-State steal in the first half and had his head dinged under the basket just after halftime.
“They did a good job, were aggressive and sometimes that happens,” said Fredette, who added that he hadn’t made up his mind about whether to enter the NBA draft. “They had a good game plan, executed it pretty well and played good defense.”
Fredette put his stamp on March Madness with a combination of tricky scoop shots and clutch 3-pointers as he matched BYU’s NCAA tournament scoring record in the opening game.
But then he ran into Pullen—literally.
The two got tangled up after Pullen knocked the ball away from Fredette with just under 7 minutes left in the first half and Pullen remained on the court for a few moments grasping his left hip. He stayed in the game and hit a 3-pointer from the right wing that gave K-State its first lead with 4:21 left before halftime.
“They turned it up a notch and put a lot of pressure on us,” said Jackson Emery, who hit two 3-pointers in BYU’s opening 10-0 spurt. “It wasn’t a pressure that we haven’t seen before … but it took us a little while to respond to their pressure and to just counter that. By the time we did that, we were already in a hole.”