MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP)—The pink warmup shirts and black patches were for Vanessa Stewart.
So, too, was the win.
Michael Beasley had 35 points and 13 rebounds to tie a school record with his 18th double-double, and emotionally drained No. 20 Kansas State held on to beat Nebraska 74-59 on Wednesday night.
“We wanted to go out and get a big win for her,” Kansas State guard Chris Merriewether said. “I think we were playing for her tonight.”
It’s been a wild ride of emotions for Kansas State over the past 10 days.
First, junior forward Andre Gilbert was suspended indefinitely for breaking team rules. Then came the high of beating rival Kansas at home for the first time in 24 years, a win that sent the fans onto the floor and the players atop the scorer’s table.
That was followed by a disheartening loss to Missouri, a team that played with just eight players due to suspensions. Then came the crushing blow: the death of a teammate’s mother.
Playing without senior guard Clent Stewart, who’s mother Vanessa died after a long fight with bone cancer, the Wildcats somehow found a way to beat Nebraska, jumping out to a big lead, then holding off the Cornhuskers down the stretch for their 10th straight home win.
“I’ve had a tough time with my emotions for the last 10 days,” Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. “It’s been a roller-coaster ride, so I can only imagine how 17- and 18-year-old guys can handle it. I’m 41 years old and I can tell you it’s beaten me down here for the last 10 days.”
Stewart went home to Tulsa, Okla., shortly after Kansas State’s loss to Missouri on Saturday to be with his mother, who took a turn for the worse. She died on Tuesday and Stewart isn’t expected back until after Saturday’s memorial service, leaving the Wildcats with heavy hearts and without their floor leader.
Though not there in person, Stewart was clearly on everyone’s minds inside Bramlage.
Kansas State’s players wore pink T-shirts with “Family” on the front and the outline of a ribbon on the back, keeping them on during warmups, on the bench and during the postgame news conference. They also had black patches with the letters “VS” on their jerseys and the coaches wore pink ribbons on their lapels.
And when a moment of silence was held before the game in Vanessa’s honor, everyone either looked down at the floor or up at the Jumbotron, which had a picture of Clent and his mother.
“What’s going on with him and his family is sad,” said Beasley, who’ll join his teammates in attending Vanessa’s memorial service in Norman, Okla. “We throw our hearts out to him and his family.”
Beasley provided the spark once they hit the floor, dropping a pair of 3-pointers and scoring 10 points in the first 3 1/2 minutes as Kansas State opened with a 12-4 run. A zone took the ball out of Beasley’s hands for a short while after that, but the freshman poured it on after Cornhuskers center Aleks Maric picked up his second foul, scoring 12 points over the final 5:41 to put Kansas State up 45-30 at the half.
Nebraska clawed its way back in the second half, putting Ade Dagunduro on Beasley and playing zone against the rest of the Wildcats. Kansas State had trouble with Missouri’s zone and when the shots starting missing again, the Cornhuskers went on a 12-2 run, pulling within 55-50 on Sek Henry’s 3-pointer.
“I think it worked pretty well, but they were still able to get offensive rebounds,” said Henry, who had 10 points. “That kind of hurt us because we’re a small team.”
Beasley finally broke loose with 12 1/2 minutes left on a putback, then scored eight more points to help the Wildcats to a 69-54 lead with 3 minutes left. He added a turnaround jumper to make sure Nebraska didn’t have a shot.
Beasley finished 15-of-21 from the floor for his eighth 30-point game, breaking the Kansas State single-season record held by Bob Boozer and Norris Coleman. His 18 double-doubles ties Larry Comley’s team record, set in 1960-61, and is four short of the Division I freshman record, set by Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony in 2002-03.
“I don’t know what he ended up with, but if you didn’t know any better he probably had about six or eight points,” Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said. “He didn’t force a thing. It just came to him. That’s what a great player does.”
Maric had 16 points and 15 rebounds, and Dagunduro and Cookie Miller had 14 points apiece for Nebraska, which lost its 21st straight road game against a ranked opponent.
Bill Walker had 17 for Kansas State.