MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Kansas coach Bill Self worked his lineup like a Sudoku puzzle, searching for a combination that could slow Kansas State's momentum. He called three timeouts in the first six minutes, rotated nearly every player off his bench, hoping for some kind of spark.
Finally, something clicked -- and it started with defense.
Cole Aldrich had 21 points, Sherron Collins added 19 and the 16th-ranked Jayhawks used defensive pressure to overcome a 16-point first-half deficit and beat rival Kansas State 85-74 on Saturday.
"We were just laboring, but the guys just hung tough," Self said. "That's probably as good a road win we've had since I've been at Kansas, considering the circumstances, how young and the environment."
Kansas (20-5, 9-1 Big 12) was coming off a last-second, 62-60 loss at Missouri on Monday and certainly didn't want to make it two straight against its two biggest rivals.
The Jayhawks got off to a miserable start, but dug themselves out of the big early hole by creating easy shots off defense. Kansas kept it up in the second half, limiting Kansas State's chances and shooting 56 percent to reach 20 wins for the 20th straight season.
Freshman Marcus Morris played his most aggressive game of the season, finishing with 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals. Brady Morningstar made all four of his 3-point attempts for 12 points and Kansas was 8-for-12 from beyond the arc for its 38th win in the past 40 meetings against Kansas State. The Jayhawks are 25-1 in Manhattan since 1984.
"We have been through a lot this week playing Missouri and then here," said Aldrich, who had 13 points in the second half. "The Missouri game hit us hard and we really wanted to get back on our feet today. We showed a lot of character by coming back and playing well."
Kansas State (17-8, 6-5), filled with confidence after winning six straight games, fed off a rowdy crowd to build the early lead, but couldn't sustain it. The Wildcats relaxed at both ends to let Kansas trim the 16-point lead to one in the first half and struggled against the Jayhawks' defensive pressure in the second, shooting 9-of-28 from the floor.
Denis Clemente led Kansas State with 26 points and Jacob Pullen added 22 for the Wildcats, who have lost three straight to Kansas.
"You can't give a good team life," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "We relaxed and it gave them life."
Led by All-American Michael Beasley, Kansas State ended a 24-game home-court losing streak to Kansas with an 84-75 victory last year, setting off a wild celebration that had the students rushing the court and the K-State players dancing on the scorer's table.
Kansas State's fans were ready for a repeat -- particularly after Kansas' rout in Lawrence last month -- creating a charged-up atmosphere inside Bramlage Coliseum well before the opening tip. The Wildcats fed off the energy, hitting five of their first eight shots, then whipped the crowd into an ear-splitting frenzy with an 18-2 run to go up 28-13 midway through the first half.
Self went through timeouts like burnt matches and nearly emptied his bench trying to find someone to provide a spark, using 11 players in the first 11½ minutes.
"We were grasping," he said. "We didn't have anything going and they were great."
Finally, he found a combination that worked.
Sparked by its defense, Kansas got out in transition to score some easy baskets, building confidence with each trip. The Jayhawks used a late 12-2 run to get back in it and ended up shooting 16-of-28 from the floor to get within 43-42 by halftime.
Kansas kept up its defensive intensity early in the second half, setting up a 10-2 run that put the Jayhawks up 63-53 at the midpoint. Kansas State made a late run to get within two, but the Jayhawks held Clemente and Pullen to a combined 4-of-14 shooting in the second half and pulled away down the stretch.
"We went on our run and you know a good team like Kansas is going to make their run eventually," said Kansas State's Darren Kent, who had 12 points. "We had a chance, but there were too many breakdowns in the second half.