If we are to believe that the beginning of the Big 12 men’s basketball race portends what is to cone as the league season unfolds, we are in for an interesting journey to the tourney.
Not one of the four conference games that tipped off Big 12 play on the first Saturday of the new year went entirely according to form. Kansas State (11-3) perhaps pulled the biggest surprise of the weekend, gunning down top-10-ranked Oklahoma State (12-2) to win their 11th game of the season and their ninth straight. Aside from the Wildcats’ 74-71 home win over OSU, the home-court advantage wasn’t one on Saturday around the conference. Iowa State, Oklahoma and West Virginia all came away with victories on foreign hardwood on Saturday.
Kansas State prevented sixth-ranked Oklahoma State from putting much distance between the two teams throughout its afternoon contest at Bramlage Coliseum. By staying close, the Wildcats put themselves in a position to win the game, which they did by holding on late to upset the nationally ranked Cowboys. It was K-State’s second victory this season over a ranked team (they beat Gonzaga 72-62 in December) but its first at Bramlage since beating then-12th-ranked Missouri on Jan. 7, 2012.
K-State junior forward Nino Williams, who was one of the heroes when the Wildcats beat Oklahoma State in Manhattan a year ago, scored 17 points off the bench in spelling Shane Southwell, who got into foul trouble early. Marcus Foster had 17 and Thomas Gipson 10 for the Wildcats. Le’Bryan Nash led Oklahoma State with 18 points, and Markel Brown added 16.
“What can you say. it’s a great win, a gutsy win by our guys,” K-State head coach Bruce Weber said. “They kept battling. I’m not sure it was really pretty at times, and it seemed like (Oklahoma State) seemed to control the game, but at that six-minute mark or so we made some huge plays and had stops when they counted.”
Iowa State took a 44-29 lead to the locker room at halftime at Texas Tech, but found itself deadlocked at 50 with the Red Raiders and back in a dogfight with seven and a half minutes gone in the second half. The Cyclones, led by a team-high 17-point performance by Georges Niang, stretched the lead back out to 11 points from there and then held on down the stretch for a 73-62 victory, preserving their unblemished season record at 13-0.
The Cyclones had a huge advantage at the free-throw line, with 29 free throw attempts, making 24 of them, to just eight for the host Red Raiders. Texas Tech, now 8-6 on the season, was led by senior Jaye Crockett, the team’s leading scorer, with 20 points on nine of 14 shooting from the field.
Oklahoma also came away with a huge roacd win, surviving the first of its two-game Red River Rivalry series with archrival Texas, coming from behind in the second half to pull out a three-point 88-85 win in Austin. The Sooners got 22 points from sophomore guard Buddy Hield and made eight of 10 free throws in the closing minute to hold on for their win the their conference opener and earn their 12th win in 14 games this season. The Longhorns’ record dropped to 11-3.
Oklahoma helped its cause by outrebounding the Longhorns ( by 11, 39-28. Seventeen of the Sooners’ 39 boards were on the offensive end.
“The (Big 12) is really tough, so anytime you can win, let alone win on the road, you are going to geel good about it,” said OU coach Lon Kruger about openting the league schedule with a win. “We got 17 more now, and we talk to our guys all the time about how significant and how tough every one of them is.”
Eron Harris came off the bench for West Virginia after battling the flu this week, but didn’t show any ill effects, pouring in a team-high 22 points in leading the Mountaineers to a 74-69 road victory at TCU. West Virginia broke open a tight game in the first half, taking a 42-39 lead at the break. The Horned Frogs were never able to regain the lead after the intermission.
It was a huge win for West Virginia, which came into the game with an 8-5 record and an 0-2 mark in its other true road games this season. TCU, which is just two wins away from tying its win total for all of last season, is now 9-4 this season.