OKLAHOMA CITY — In the NCAA Tournament, big leads come and big leads go.
Unfortunately for the BYU Cougars, the big lead they had early in Saturday's second-round battle with Kansas State disappeared quickly, but the one the Wildcats took into halftime didn't.
However, what did disappear with Kansas State's 84-72 NCAA Tournament win at Ford Arena were BYU's hopes of playing in the Sweet 16 later this week at EnergySolutions Arena.
"We were able to get past the first round finally and, you know, we ran into a really good team tonight," BYU guard Jimmer Fredette said. "They just played a little bit better than we did. All the credit to them."
The reasons Kansas State was able to erase BYU's 10-0 run to open the game up became more obvious as they became more effective, but they were still challenging for the Cougars to stop. Kansas State is advancing and BYU is not because the Wildcats' inside-out game was more than BYU could defend, the Wildcats' ability to own the boards gave them too many opportunities to score, and Kansas State's ability to keep Fredette from getting to the basket basically nullified the Cougars' main scoring threat.
"They were really, really good defensively, which caused us to kind of hurry up a little bit and turn over, and not shoot the ball as well as we normally do," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "But all the credit goes to Kansas State for how well they played."
Fredette did score a team-high 21, but 10 of those points came from the line late in the game. He was only 5 of 13 from the floor and 1 of 4 from 3-point range, and he turned the ball over five times. Kansas State was able to force those numbers on BYU's top scorer by the physical manner in which they guarded him the minute he crossed the midcourt line.
"They're an aggressive team defensively," Fredette said. "We knew they were going to get up in us, and they started double-teaming me even in the backcourt, and as soon as I got over half court. I was trying to get it to my teammates and have them be aggressive as well."
On the other side, the Cougars had no answer for Kansas State's powerful backcourt duo of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, who scored 34 and 19 points, respectively. Pullen hit seven 3-pointers and was a perfect 11 of 11 from the line. Most of Clemente's baskets came when BYU was trying to mount a comeback.
"We just really had to key in on our defense, and we got comfortable on the offensive side and got the shots we wanted to really control the game," Pullen said.
Early on, the Cougars raced out to a 10-0 lead when Fredette (five assists) recognized that Kansas State's game plan was to stop him. When he hit Jackson Emery (13 points) for two early 3-pointers, the Cougars had a double-digit lead less than four minutes into the game.
But when the Cougars hit a five-minute cold spell, the Wildcats began to get the game's tempo in their favor. They moved the ball around the outside until either Clemente or Pullen was open. They also got open outside looks by feeding it in deep and then kicking it back out.
On many of Kansas State's misses, the Wildcats would get the rebound and convert on the second chance. The Wildcats outrebounded BYU 33-24 and had an 11-7 advantage on the offensive glass.
"They're a great rebounding team. That's what they do," BYU center Brandon Davies said. "We really emphasized stopping that, but they still found ways to get the rebounds when they needed them."
After the Wildcats had cut BYU's lead to 13-10, the Cougars regrouped and pushed the lead back to 10 at 23-13 on a trey by Jonathan Tavernari. For the remainder of the half, however, Kansas State made the most of its possessions — via outside shooting and offensive boards — while BYU struggled to hit open shots and turned the ball over. Also, three of BYU's front-line players — Tavernari, Davies and Chris Miles — had three fouls each before intermission.
When Wildcat forward Curtis Kelly hit two free throws with 2:38 left in the first half, Kansas State went ahead 30-29 and never trailed again. The Wildcats widened their lead to 41-31 at the break when Pullen hit five straight free throws and then a long 3-pointer.
To be consistent with how the breaks began turning against the Cougars, a tip at the halftime buzzer that was initially ruled good was later waved off after officials reviewed the shot on video.
"That's how basketball is sometimes," Tavernari said. "We just got in a rut for a few minutes there where we couldn't seem to get anything to go our way."
The Cougars had several stretches in the second half where they briefly got the flow of the game in their favor, but the Wildcats hit big shots every time to turn the momentum back around.
Fredette's only 3-pointer at the 16:25 mark cut Kansas State's lead to 45-40. But a leaning jumper by Wally Judge ended that run. At the 12:35 mark, Tavernari banked in a layup to cut Kansas State's lead to five again. But Clemente responded with a running baseline jumper over two BYU defenders. With 10:53 remaining, Michael Loyd Jr. flipped in a reverse layup, making it a 55-50 game. On the other end, Clemente drilled a three to push the lead back to eight.
"It took us a while to respond to their pressure and to just counter that, and by the time we did that, we were already in a hole," Emery said.
Kansas State, leading 68-61 with 3:30 remaining, officially put the final nail in BYU's coffin when Clemente missed a 3-pointer, but Dominique Sutton grabbed the offensive board, and then Pullen drilled a trey to push the margin back to 10.
"We needed to play a little bit better, but there's no part of me that faults (our) effort. We just needed to play a little bit better to win tonight," Rose said.