MANHATTAN, Kan. -- The day began with Kansas State students standing in a line pre-sunrise and ended with them filing out of Bramlage Coliseum, their Wildcats on the wrong end of an overtime thriller. By my count, there were 16 hours in between, and those hours were filled with chants, screams and high-fives -- plus a little drinking -- that occurred before, during and after 45 minutes of basketball that turned the Octagon of Doom into the Octagon of Gloom.
|Sherron Collins' effect on the game goes beyond his stat line. (AP)|
And why not?
Sure, the 11th-ranked Wildcats lost, and nobody likes to lose. But Martin has coached for a long time at a lot of different levels, and he knows teams lose games for tons of different reasons. One of those reasons is effort, and he can't stand that. Another is mental mistakes, and that drives him crazy, too. But Kansas State didn't lose this 81-79 decision that featured 14 ties and 20 lead changes because of effort or mental mistakes. The Wildcats lost because Sherron Collins fought off cramps and refused to let them win, and in the process further established himself as one of the best closers -- if not the best closer -- in all of college basketball.
"That's it," Martin said. "That's what it came down to."
Kansas will almost certainly -- and deservedly so -- move back to the AP poll's top spot Monday thanks to this incredible win in this incredible game that somehow exceeded the hype. You can credit Cole Aldrich (18 points and 11 rebounds) or Brady Morningstar (14 points on five shots) if you want, and they absolutely deserve some credit. But the main reason the Jayhawks didn't lose this game against Kansas State is the same reason the Jayhawks didn't lose that game to Cornell.
That reason: Sherron Collins.
More specifically, Sherron Collins' cojones.
"We'll have to put them on top of the bus to get them home," Morningstar told Scout.com's Eric Bossi after the news conference cleared out, and though I think the KU guard was joking, I can't say for sure.
Bill Self called it a "flair for the dramatic."
A few others used the term "onions."
Either way, you get the point.
Despite Collins producing a pedestrian stat line (16 points on 7-of-14 shooting with four assists and three turnovers), there is no denying his effect on this game was as huge as his you-know-whats. The senior point guard battled cramps and, at times, seemed like the only Jayhawk unfazed by what was perhaps the most hostile environment any team will visit this season. When KSU cut a 43-35 deficit to 43-42 with 12:06 left in regulation, it was Collins who sank a jumper to stop the run. When KSU took a 49-45 lead with 9:23 left in regulation, it was Collins who scored five points in 29 seconds to push Kansas to a 50-49 advantage. When KSU tied the score for the sixth time, it was Collins who buried a 3-pointer to give Kansas a 55-52 lead with 6:25 left in regulation. And when the Jayhawks needed to maintain a one-point lead in the final minute of overtime, it was Collins who drove, drew a foul and scored to give Kansas a 79-76 lead with 9.2 seconds remaining.
Collins missed the subsequent free throw, by the way.
But who cares?
Aldrich grabbed the rebound, Morningstar ended up with the ball, got fouled and sank two free throws with 4.3 seconds remaining, which ensured Jacob Pullen's buzzer-beating 3-pointer would do nothing but devastate gamblers who had Kansas minus-4. As for Kansas' No. 4, he went to the locker room, got changed and emerged with a toboggan and a big smile. He talked about the cramps, talked about the plays, talked about the significance of moving back to No. 1, and then he was asked if this was the Jayhawks' biggest win of the season.
"So far," Collins answered. "But there could be bigger ones."
Mostly because he's got the biggest ones.