PULLMAN, Wash. -- The delirious crowd inside Beasley Coliseum had gone from derisive chants about Saturday's Apple Cup football game against Washington, to an ear-piercing din as Washington State took the lead in the closing minutes.
Exactly the kind of situation Kansas State coach Frank Martin wanted his No. 5 Wildcats to face, especially with preseason all-American Jacob Pullen a non-factor offensively.
"It's definitely important. It shows that we have other ways to score, that we are deeper," Curtis Kelly said.
Rodney McGruder scored 15 points, hitting two key 3-pointers midway through second half, Kelly also had 15 points and the Wildcats made up for an off night from their star in a 63-58 victory over Washington State on Friday night in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series.
Pullen wasn't completely absent from having a hand in this victory. He hit two free throws with 9.1 seconds left that finally sealed a challenging road victory for the Wildcats, their first road win over a Pac-10 team since 1980.
It was one of the few enjoyable moments for Pullen, who rarely got open looks and when he did, his shot was off. Pullen was just 2 of 11 from the field and finished with eight points, just the second time in 44 games dating to his sophomore season Pullen has failed to score in double figures.
Less than two weeks ago, Pullen suffered through the second-worst shooting game of his career missing 11 of 12 shots in Kansas State's loss to No. 1 Duke. Friday night wasn't much better, but the Wildcats (7-1) managed to survive.
"I kind of struggled," said Pullen, who made just one 3-pointer and glared at the WSU student section after hitting the 3 with 5:45 left. "It made the game more valuable because other guys had to step up and make plays."
After playing Gonzaga and the Blue Devils in Kansas City, Mo., the trip to Pullman for a rare Friday night contest was the Wildcats' biggest test until facing Florida and UNLV in back-to-back games later this month.
Despite the high ranking, Martin really wanted to see how his team would respond when pressed and when the crowd wasn't mostly purple.
"Our young guys got to understand how to play in environments like that. Some of them have never played in an environment like that," Pullen said. "They need to understand this is a typical Big 12 road game."
Klay Thompson led Washington State (5-1) with 16 points, and Reggie Moore, in his first action of the season, added 10 points, as the Cougars tried to prove their 5-0 start to the season wasn't a fluke despite the weak competition.
"We competed as hard as we can compete," Washington State coach Ken Bone said.
And for a brief moment, it looked like Bone's team might pull the upset.
After trailing by 10 early in the second half, Washington State took a 54-53 lead when Moore found DeAngelo Casto alone underneath with 2:35 left. It was Washington State's first lead since 10-7 in the opening moments, erasing the bad memory of going the final 12:46 of the first half with just one field goal and erupting the nearly full arena.
Jamar Samuels split a pair of free throws to pull even at 54 and after a WSU turnover, Pullen found Kelly open underneath for a 56-54 lead.
Thompson and Moore missed 3s at the other end for the Cougars, and while Pullen missed a 17-footer with a minute left, he grabbed the long offensive rebound to give the Wildcats another possession to burn time.
The Wildcats worked around the perimeter and found Samuels on the block. He turned into the lane, paused long enough to get Casto's timing for the block attempt off and scored from 6 feet with 32 seconds.
Casto scored quickly for WSU, but freshman Will Spradling was fouled in the backcourt with 16 seconds left and, with Martin clapping confidently on the bench, the freshman hit both free throws. Thompson scored on a dunk, before Pullen's two clinchers.
"Last year we went 13-1 in our nonconfernece schedule, but we never played in an environment like this," Martin said. "This is good for our team."
Along with Kelly's scoring inside, the Wildcats also outrebounded the Cougars 45-33, including 17 offensive rebounds. The Cougars didn't help themselves by missing 10 free throws, including four uncharacteristic misses from Thompson.
"The second half we competed, we showed up and showed that we can compete with anybody," Thompson said. "... When we click as a unit we're going to be a special team."