MANHATTAN — If ever there were a day to play role reversal, this seemed to be it.
By the time No. 7 Texas Tech and Kansas State tipped off Saturday night at Bramlage Coliseum, four Big 12 teams ranked below their opponents in the conference standings had won. The most notable of the upsets occurred when Baylor whipped Kansas and Oklahoma State stunned West Virginia.
A K-State win would have completed the upset sweep, but the Big 12′s top team played a little role reversal of its own. With a dominant second half, Keenan Evans and the Red Raiders pulled away to a 66-47 victory, restoring order and claiming sole possession of the league lead.
Yes, you read that correctly. With exactly three weeks remaining in the regular season, Texas Tech (21-4, 9-3) is the front-runner to win the Big 12 championship. The Raiders now own a one-game lead over KU and a two-game edge over WVU following the wild Saturday events that preceded their victory.
Once again, the Raiders’ defense deserves much of the credit. Tech, the Big 12′s stingiest team in terms of points allowed and field goal percentage defense, held K-State to its worst output nearly three years. The Wildcats’ 47 points were their fewest since they managed only 42 in a loss at Baylor on Feb. 21, 2015.
It was K-State’s worst offensive effort at home since a 42-point game against Nebraska in 2006, Jim Wooldridge’s final season as coach.
“Defensively we dialed in,” Tech coach Chris Beard said. “I think we played our fullest 40 minutes of the year defensively.”
The loss, K-State’s first at home against Tech since 2007, dropped the Wildcats (17-8, 6-6) to 0-6 this season against the league’s top three squads.
“I’m not sure there’s any definite explanation (for that) except they’re good,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said.
Evans, the senior standout and Big 12′s second-leading scorer, registered 14 of his game-high 19 points in the decisive final half. Tommy Hamilton IV added 14 points for Tech, going 4-for-4 from 3-point range.
Dean Wade was the lone Wildcat to reach double figures with 13 points. K-State shot a miserable 28.9 percent against Tech, making only 8 of 26 shots in the opening half and 5 of 19 in the final 20 minutes.
“Their defense is great,” said Wade, who also grabbed 11 rebounds to finish with a double-double. “Once you get past the first line, there’s always somebody there. Their defense is so packed in line, it’s hard to get anything downhill like that.”
Tech and K-State were tied at 27 to start the second half, but the Raiders took advantage when K-State came up empty on its first six second-half possessions and missed its first eight shots. By the time Barry Brown ended the Wildcats’ field goal drought with a 15-footer from the right side at the 14:29 mark, Tech had built a 42-28 lead that never again would be in real jeopardy.
“It was really tough,” said Cartier Diarra, who had nine points but also was responsible for five of K-State’s 18 turnovers, of K-State’s early second-half struggles. “Shots just didn’t fall for us. We had good looks; it just wouldn’t go in the rim.”
After posting only five points in the first 20 minutes, Evans registered 10 of the Raiders’ points in that opening spurt. He fueled the breakaway run with a driving layup to open the half and capped it with a three-point play at the 14:59 mark.
K-State cut its deficit to 43-37 on a Wade bucket with 11:02 to play, but Tech used a 10-2 run to effectively end all drama.
“They were tougher, more physical than us,” Weber said. “We were good defensively the first half; second half we broke down a little bit.”
The Wildcats led for much of the opening period after scoring seven straight points to start the game — including a corner 3-pointer from Xavier Sneed 26 seconds into the affair and a layup from Wade at the 18:59 mark — but Tech battled back behind eight points from Hamilton and 5-of-8 shooting from 3-point range compared to K-State’s 1-for-10 effort from beyond the arc.
“Great start,” Weber said. “We hadn’t had a good start like that in a while; we just couldn’t continue it.
“We just didn’t have any answers, especially in the second half.”