KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Barry Brown and D.J. Johnson heard what critics were saying about Kansas State, all those rumors that coach Bruce Weber was on the hot-seat and the Wildcats were an NCAA Tournament long shot.
They provided a defiant answer to all those people Thursday night.
Brown had 21 points, including a series of crucial foul shots down the stretch, and Johnson had 13 points and seven rebounds to help the Wildcats upset ninth-ranked Baylor 70-64 in the Big 12 Tournament — clinching not only a spot in the semifinals but likely a berth in the NCAA’s field of 68.
“We knew what was on the line. We knew what people were saying,” Brown said. “We just stuck together. We played for coach, played for one another.”
It was the second time the sixth-seeded Wildcats (20-12) have beaten the Bears (25-7) this season, giving them precisely the kind of marquee victory that the selection committee favors.
They’ll get a chance for another against No. 11 West Virginia in Friday night’s semifinals.
“We just beat one of the marquee teams in the country,” Weber said. “We talked about success is when opportunity meets preparation, that’s when you meet success, and we have to be prepared. We have another opportunity. We have to be prepared.”
The No. 3 seed Bears got to 64-60 on Al Freeman’s 3-pointer with 50 seconds to go, but they were forced to keep sending Brown to the foul line. The sophomore guard, who’s been mediocre there all season, made six of eight down the stretch to seal the Wildcats’ third straight win.
Freeman had 16 points to lead Baylor. Johnathan Motley and Manu Lecomte had 13 points apiece.
“We knew that anyone could win this because of the parity in the league. It didn’t matter where anybody was seeded,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “They made plays. They earned it.”
Neither team gave an inch in a first-half dominated by defense.
The Bears kept slapping the Wildcats with their trademark zone, forcing them into taking long jumpers deep in the shot-clock. Kansas State countered with a suffocating man-to-man that not only produced nine first-half turnovers but forced Baylor into a plethora of rushed shots.
“They blasted us on defense,” the Bears’ Jake Lindsey said.
The strategy for the Wildcats was simple— keep Motley, the Bears’ All-Big 12 forward, from getting looks inside and Lecomte, one of the league’s top newcomers, from getting looks outside.
Not surprisingly, the teams played to a 25-all draw after 20 minutes.
It was still tied at 33 when the Wildcats began to assert themselves midway through the second half, and again it was their defense that got things started. They forced Baylor into another shot-clock violation, and Isaiah Maurice followed with a dunk that brought a pro-Kansas State crowd to life.
Kamau Stokes hit a bucket moments later, Brown poured in a 3 as the shot-clock was about to expire, then he added a four-point play that gave Kansas State a 44-37 lead with 9 1/2 minutes left.
The Wildcats had pushed it to 60-51 when Motley scored inside with 2:20 to go. The Bears slapped on some pressure and forced a turnover, Freeman made two free throws, then more full-court pressure created another turnover that led to another basket for Motley and trimmed it to 60-55 with 1:40 left.
But after weathering yet more pressure, the Wildcats got the ball to Stokes at the other end, and his wiggling, off-balance shot with just over a minute left fell to give them a cushion.
Brown and the Wildcats took care of the rest from the foul line.
“We talked about all the things that were going on off the court,” Brown said, “but Coach kept us level-headed and kept us thinking about basketball. The team stayed together, no matter what was being said in the media. The team stayed together and we were able to pull out the victory.”
SNYDER IN THE STANDS
Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder took in the game from an aisle seat several rows behind the Wildcats’ bench. The 77-year-old Snyder has been undergoing treatment for throat cancer but expects to be on the field when the Wildcats begin spring practices later this month.
Kansas State improved to 3-1 against the Bears in the Big 12 Tournament with its 20th win of the season. The last time the Wildcats won 20 games was in 2014, when they last went dancing.
Baylor had reached the Big 12 Tournament semifinals each of the past three seasons, but this time joined top-seeded Kansas in heading home early. Kansas lost to TCU earlier in the day.
Kansas State gets the Mountaineers on Friday night.
Baylor heads back to Waco, Texas, to await Selection Sunday.