Some clutch play helped Kansas State avoid a letdown after the Wildcats earned their highest ranking in nearly five decades.
The No. 7 Wildcats might have another dangerous matchup in store when they visit struggling Oklahoma on Saturday night.
Kansas State (21-4, 8-3 Big 12) has its highest spot in the Top 25 since it was sixth in the final poll of the 1961-62 season. The Wildcats, though, struggled to justify that lofty status against last-place Nebraska on Wednesday.
They squandered a nine-point lead in the final minutes before Chris Merriewether made two foul shots with 24.2 to play, and Jacob Pullen intercepted a pass to seal a 91-87 win.
“We played good defense some possessions and they still made tough shots,” said Pullen, who had 18 points. “But you let a team get into a rhythm, and it’s a long night. They made shot after shot after shot. Toward the end of the game … they just shot rainbows and they were falling into the rim.”
Pullen, the team leader with 18.6 points per game, will try to help the Wildcats avoid another scare as they face the Sooners (13-12, 4-7), losers of six of eight.
The junior guard has averaged 20.0 points as Kansas State has gone 5-1 on the road.
Another strong performance from Dominique Sutton would also help the Wildcats. The junior forward went 5 of 7 from the field and 3 for 3 from beyond the arc Wednesday, matching his career best of 21 points - two shy of his total from the previous four games.
Despite Oklahoma’s slump, Kansas State has dropped nine of the last 11 meetings, falling 61-53 to the then-No. 6 Sooners in the most recent matchup last Jan. 10. The Wildcats, however, won 84-82 in their last visit to Norman on Jan. 12, 2008.
The Sooners are looking to halt a season high-tying three-game slide after falling 77-67 at Colorado on Wednesday. They have not dropped four straight since a six-game skid to conclude the 2006-07 regular season.
“One of the things coming into (Wednesday), we talked about defensively; we can’t try to take shortcuts,” coach Jeff Capel said. “We didn’t display the discipline enough to do things like we talked about and play the whole possession.”
Oklahoma gives up an average of 72.5 points, better only than Texas Tech’s conference-worst 74.7. Perimeter defense has been a major problem for the Sooners, who are allowing a Big 12-high 38.0 percent shooting from 3-point range.
Oklahoma has not shown much improvement on defense during its losing streak, getting outscored by an average of nearly 11 points while allowing opponents to go 25 of 50 from beyond the arc.
The Sooners return to the Lloyd Noble Center, where their skid began with a 72-71 defeat to the Red Raiders that ended an 11-game home win streak.
Tommy Mason-Griffin has been a bright spot for Oklahoma, averaging 22.0 points over the last eight games. The freshman guard had 19 points Wednesday, four nights after scoring 30 in a 97-76 loss at Oklahoma State.
His 14.0 points per game are second on the team to guard Willie Warren’s 16.3.