Coach Frank Martin regretted his decision to give Kansas State a break following a short turnaround. Now he’ll get a chance to see how his team responds following a long layoff.
With Martin hoping for a sharper effort against a subpar team, the 12th-ranked Wildcats come off their holiday break to host struggling Cleveland State on Tuesday night.
This will be Kansas State’s first game since Dec. 21, when it defeated Arkansas-Pine Bluff 90-76. The Wildcats (11-1) had to battle more than Martin would have liked against a winless opponent.
Martin took it easy on Kansas State in practice after coming off an 87-74 win at Alabama two days earlier.
“I’m like everyone else,” Martin said. “I make decisions. When they work out, I understand. When they don’t, I take notes and move forward. I kind of prepare my mind for the next time we have a quick turnaround.”
After an eight-day stretch without playing, the Wildcats should be fresh as they try to extend a 21-game non-conference home winning streak.
Kansas State, winners of eight in a row overall, is on a roll as it prepares for Big 12 play, beginning at Missouri on Jan. 9. The Wildcats have beaten two ranked non-conference teams (UNLV and Dayton) in the same season for the first time since 1958-59.
“We’re closer,” Martin said, “but we still haven’t won anything that’s worthy of celebrations. We’ve yet to play a Big 12 game this year.”
Junior guard Jacob Pullen has led the way, averaging 20.0 points and shooting 43.6 percent from 3-point range. He’s 16 for 25 from beyond the arc over his last three contests, averaging 25.3 points.
Pullen had 15 points and Denis Clemente a team-high 16 in Kansas State’s 69-59 win at Cleveland State on Nov. 22, 2008, giving the Wildcats a 2-0 lead in the series.
Pullen and Clemente make up one of the country’s best backcourts as Kansas State averages 82.8 points per game. Clemente, a senior, is averaging 14.3.
Cleveland State (4-9) is accustomed to playing talented teams. This will be the Vikings’ school-record third straight matchup against a ranked opponent.
A 72-59 loss to then-No. 17 Ohio State last Tuesday was Cleveland State’s third straight defeat. Three days earlier versus No. 6 West Virginia, the Vikings rallied from a 17-point deficit to tie the game late, only to lose 80-78 on Da’Sean Butler’s layup with 1.2 seconds left.
Cleveland State is 5-32 all-time against ranked teams. The Vikings went 3-1 in such contests last season before losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament, but they’re now in a rebuilding mode.
Even leading scorer Norris Cole, one of the few holdovers from last season, has struggled occasionally. The junior guard is coming off his worst game since becoming a starter last season, finishing without a point against Ohio State.
Cole, averaging 15.9 points, missed all 10 of his shots from the field and had six turnovers. He had 17 points and three steals in last season’s matchup with Kansas State.