K-State win from past still res­onates

The Kansas City Star - - Front Page - BY KELLIS ROBINETT krobi­nett@wi­chi­taea­gle.com Pullen … straight away … Bang! He’s in shape.

Ten years later, the most iconic play from Kansas State’s epic 101-96 dou­ble-over­time vic­tory over Xavier in the Sweet 16 round of the 2010 NCAA Tour­na­ment re­mains the three-pointer that Ja­cob Pullen made at the top of the key in the wan­ing mo­ments of a game that felt like it might never end.

K-State re­plays the shot from an over­head an­gle be­fore the start of ev­ery home bas­ket­ball game at Bram­lage Coli­seum, and fans still cheer as if they are watch­ing it for the first time.

The ex­u­ber­ant play-by-play call from Gus Johnson en­hances the ex­cite­ment as the Wild­cats take a 97-94 lead over the Mus­ke­teers with 35 sec­onds re­main­ing.

Many know every­thing about that se­quence by heart. Pullen fakes as if he is go­ing to run un­der­neath a base­line screen and in­stead zips up the mid­dle of the floor, Denis Cle­mente finds him wide-open with a pass from the right wing and the ball swishes through the net.

But few know the back story. In some ways, it is more fas­ci­nat­ing than the play it­self.

“We had never coached that,” for­mer K-State coach Frank Martin said while rem­i­nisc­ing about the clas­sic game this week. “We had never, ever re­hearsed that. That was just a spe­cial play by two spe­cial play­ers.”

One of the most fa­mous plays in re­cent K-State bas­ket­ball his­tory was im­pro­vised. How about that?

Martin still chuck­les think­ing about it. At the be­gin­ning of the pos­ses­sion, he in­structed the Wild­cats to run one of his fa­vorite plays – Mo­tion 2. He has been call­ing it since he was a high school coach in south Florida and he still uses it to­day at South Carolina.

It was de­signed to get Pullen open for a cor­ner three, but Xavier saw the play com­ing and shifted its de­fense when Cur­tis Kelly be­gan to set a screen in the low post. Pullen’s de­fender ran to where Pullen was sup­posed to be, al­low­ing Cle­mente to space the floor and leave acres of room for Pullen at the top of the key. It was backyard bas­ket­ball at its finest.

“Ja­cob saw his de­fender cheat­ing and cut the play off,” Martin said. “I’m on the side­line won­der­ing what in the world is go­ing on, but it was great read by two spe­cial play­ers that un­der­stood how to

play with each other.”


That shot helped No. 2 seed K-State pull away from No. 6 seed Xavier for vic­tory af­ter a long, 50minute stretch of backand-forth com­pe­ti­tion.

But it wasn’t the only time K-State play­ers took con­trol of the of­fense that night.

Martin has never watched a full re­play of the game, though he plans to change that at 5 p.m. on Fri­day when he says he will live-tweet a clas­sic broad­cast of the con­test when it airs on CBS Sports, so he doesn’t re­mem­ber every­thing about that night in Salt Lake City, Utah.

But he vividly re­mem­bers a time­out in the sec­ond half when Cle­mente took over as of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor.

K-State’s coach wanted to run a play for Cle­mente and Pullen, but Cle­mente in­ter­rupted and sug­gested Four Down, a play that would put Ja­mar Sa­muels in a post-up sit­u­a­tion, was the bet­ter call. Martin wor­ried Xavier would foul Sa­muels, then just a sopho­more, and he would miss his free throws. But he al­lowed Cle­mente to make the call, say­ing, “It’s your team.”

On the next two pos­ses­sions, Sa­muels hit Cle­mente for a three-pointer and then threw down an and-one dunk.

“We ran those plays to per­fec­tion,” Martin said. “Denis just smiled and ran by me on the side­line, say­ing ‘I got you.’”

There’s a rea­son why he still refers to Pullen as the “star” of that team and to Cle­mente as “the en­gine.”


Plays like that were only half of the rea­son why some point to that game as a March Mad­ness clas­sic.

Xavier de­liv­ered its fair share of mem­o­rable mo­ments, too. K-State raced to a 19-4 lead, but Martin re­calls telling his as­sis­tant coaches there was no way the Wild­cats could sus­tain that pace.

The Wild­cats and Mus­ke­teers had some his­tory. Three years ear­lier, Xavier had pum­meled K-State 103-77 in Cincin­nati. Martin re­mem­bers that as “the worst game of Michael Beasley’s col­lege ca­reer,” and Pullen took the beat­down per­son­ally. K-State got re­venge in a non­con­fer­ence game in 2009 at home, but Martin didn’t put much stock in that game.

He knew the NCAA Tour­na­ment re­match was go­ing to be a nail-biter, even though the Wild­cats won 29 games that sea­son.

Xavier stars like Jor­dan Crawford (32 points) and Tu Hol­loway (26 points) proved him right.

K-State an­swered with 28 points from Pullen, 25 from Cle­mente, 21 from Cur­tis Kelly and 14 from Sa­muels … and it was barely enough to win.

Af­ter a slow start, Crawford and Hol­loway cap­tured light­ning from the three-point line. Crawford drained a three from Damian Lil­lard range, stand­ing on a breast-cancer aware­ness logo near mid­court, to force a sec­ond over­time. It seemed like they couldn’t miss.

“They were really good,” Martin said. “They had ex­pe­ri­ence, they had a great point guard, they had depth on the front line, they had a ros­ter full of hard-play­ing and com­pet­i­tive young men and that Crawford kid played in the NBA for a long time.”

Xavier played at a high level. So did K-State. Both teams were bet­ter than 42% from the three-point line. K-State’s win prob­a­bil­ity soared above 90% three dif­fer­ent times in the fi­nal 11 min­utes of the game, only for Xavier to fight back and give it­self a 61.2% of win­ning in dou­ble over­time.

It was an aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing game to watch.

Johnson, then a broad­caster for CBS, couldn’t con­tain his ex­cite­ment at mid­court. He jumped out of his chair sev­eral times in over­time, pumped his fists and en­thu­si­as­ti­cally called the ac­tion as if he were a fan. That’s what made it such a mem­o­rable game.


Martin lived and died with ev­ery twist and turn un­til he was in the hand­shake line mar­veling with then Xavier coach Chris Mack about what had just tran­spired. Then Martin got emo­tional.

“The ma­jor­ity of those guys signed up to play for me at Kansas State when I had no con­tract,” Martin said. “I was a first-time head coach so there was a spe­cial bond be­tween those play­ers and me and our staff.”

That game was also a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for Martin.

K-State was in po­si­tion to win in reg­u­la­tion, hold­ing a three-point lead with the fi­nal buzzer ap­proach­ing, when Martin in­structed his play­ers to in­ten­tion­ally foul Xavier be­fore it could at­tempt a three­p­ointer. Cle­mente did his best to foul Hol­loway as he crossed mid­court, but the of­fi­cials didn’t call anything. Then Chris Mer­riewether was whis­tled for a foul as Hol­loway at­tempted a three.

He made all three free throws with 5 sec­onds re­main­ing and sent the game to over­time, making it dif­fi­cult for the Wild­cats to recharge for an Elite Eight matchup it lost against But­ler two days later.

Martin says that ex­pe­ri­ence helped him take South Carolina to a Fi­nal Four in 2017.

“One of my big­gest lessons in coach­ing came at that mo­ment,” Martin said. “I didn’t tell the ref­er­ees we intended to foul. You have to be care­ful there. You can’t just go tackle some­one. They didn’t know what we were do­ing, so they didn’t call the foul. I learned a big les­son there. Any­time I’m in that mo­ment now, I in­form the ref­er­ees of what is about to hap­pen.”

Had K-State lost that game be­cause of that foul, Martin never would have for­given him­self.

For­tu­nately, Cle­mente and Pullen had a spe­cial play in the works as the clas­sic game went on.

“I’m not go­ing to ever say that is the best game ever played in the NCAA Tour­na­ment,” Martin said.

“I just don’t be­lieve in that. But when you talk about the great­est games of the NCAA Tour­na­ment you bet­ter in­clude that one. It was in­cred­i­ble.”

The Wichita Ea­gle

Kansas State's Denis Cle­mente cel­e­brates af­ter beat­ing Xavier in their Sweet 16 round matchup in 2010 in Salt Lake City. K-State re­plays Ja­cob Pullen’s clutch shot from an over­head an­gle be­fore the start of ev­ery home bas­ket­ball game.

Kansas State coach Frank Martin leaves the court to the ap­plause of Wild­cat fans in 2010 in Salt Lake City.

AP file

Fans hold gi­ant heads of Kansas State’s Denis Cle­mente, left, head coach Frank Martin, cen­ter, and Ja­cob Pullen as they cel­e­brate the re­gional semi­fi­nal win in 2010.

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