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Kansas State Collegian

Kansas State Collegian

The independent student news publication at Kansas State University

Kansas State Collegian

This Week in History (2010): Wildcats down Xavier in 2OT Sweet 16 classic

Behind K-State stars Jacob Pullen, Curtis Kelly and Roberto Clemente, K-State advanced to the Elite Eight in an all-time tournament classic

Emotions fluctuated in line with the pitch of legendary announcer Gus Johnson’s voice as Kansas State and Xavier battled to the very end in their 2010 Sweet 16 matchup. 

The efforts from Johnson on the mic and the stars on the court combined, cementing an all-time NCAA Tournament classic.

“Bang, he’s in shape!” Johnson exclaimed as junior guard Jacob Pullen nailed a triple into the Musketeers’ coffin, leading to the Wildcats’ 101-96 victory in double overtime. 

Before the finish, there were a handful of memorable calls and electric plays from Salt Lake City that will forever be enshrined in the hearts of Wildcat fans and March Madness savants alike. 

In 2010, Frank Martin was in his third of five years at the helm of the Wildcats’ program. Following a lackluster two-decade stretch, K-State was playing in its first Sweet 16 since 1988 and aiming for its 12th Elite Eight appearance. 

The Wildcats were led by Pullen, junior forward Curtis Kelly and senior shooting guard Denis Clemente. Following a 24-6 regular season, they entered March as a No. 2 seed — the best mark in program history.

In the opening weekend of the tournament, K-State took care of business against North Texas and now-conference foe BYU, leading to a rematch against six-seeded Xavier. K-State downed the Musketeers 71-56 in Manhattan earlier that season in December.

The postseason matchup had more fireworks from the jump. 

K-State held a sizable lead for a majority of the game’s early minutes, leading by as many as 15 in the first half. Xavier would settle in, forcing the back-and-forth fight that’s penciled in the record books. The Musketeers led 32-31 at the break. 

Luckily for K-State, they were led by Pullen, who Johnson called “the Chicago hard-nosed guard.” 

While toughness was unquestionably a defining characteristic of Pullen, his calling card was black, well-trimmed and intimidating. 

“Fear the beard,” became a term circulating from Manhattan to households across the country by March. 

The 6-foot junior had no intentions of backing down from the fight. Not to mention Clemente, who suffered a neck strain in the final ticks of the first half and also displayed his grit. 

As each team traded punches in the ensuing 20 minutes of second-half play, it would be at the two-minute mark that emotions — and Johnson’s play-by-play — hit their peak. 

“Oh — another big-time J,” Johnson roared as Xavier guard Jordan Crawford sank a 3-pointer, giving Xavier a one-point lead. 

Pullen matched Crawford with 24 seconds left in the contest, giving K-State a three-point lead. 

“Pullen stops, lets it go, and buries it,” Johnson called out. 

“It was an emotional roller-coaster,” Pullen said after the game. “I hit a shot at the end of the game, I’m thinking, ‘That’s game. That’s the nail in the coffin.’”

In the final seconds, K-State fouled Xavier guard Terrell “Tu” Holloway from beyond the arc, sending the contest to its first overtime.

In the period, K-State owned the advantage multiple times, but Holloway buried two more triples to keep the Musketeers’ hopes alive. Holloway was joined by Crawford from deep with seven seconds left, and the clock sounded with the score at deadlock again, 87-87. 

The fight continued, embodying March Madness in double overtime until Pullen’s dagger with 30 seconds to play — coupled with free throw shooting — iced the Sweet 16 victory.

“KSU-KSU-KSU” chants rang throughout EnergySolutions Arena, now the Delta Center, as a mentally and physically exhausting 50-minute fight concluded and rewarded the Wildcats. 

“It was two teams that didn’t want their season to end,” Pullen said.

Pullen, who averaged 19.3 points per game, spotted 28 points. Clemente and Kelly also hit the 20-point mark, netting 25 and 21 respectively. Crawford finished with 32 points and Holloway notched 26. 

“I expected it to be a hard-fought game, I didn’t expect it to be like this,” Martin said. “But they were phenomenal. And our guys were pretty good, too.”

K-State fell in the Elite Eight against Butler, the No. 5 seed out of the Horizon League. The Bulldogs became the national runner-up. 

Back to the present, the Wildcats’ victory over Xavier resembled the 2023 Sweet 16 overtime win over Michigan State, highlighted by an electric lob-dunk from guard Markquis Nowell to forward Keyontae Johnson. 

However, the quarter-final loss also mirrored the runs of 2019 and 2023 when K-State fell to lower-seeded mid-majors Loyola-Chicago and Florida Atlantic. The Wildcats reached eight Elite Eights since its last Final Four appearance in 1964, struggling to get past the second weekend.

The drought could be over soon. 

Holding the reins as the point guard for K-State is another “Chicago tough” ball-handler, Dai Dai Ames. The sophomore-to-be will aim to guide the Wildcats through the depths of March in the coming years alongside talented teammates and head coach Jerome Tang’s staff. 

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