MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The shots weren't falling, the bodies were. Their coach's face was nearly purple, and a few fans threw objects onto the floor.
Faced with a start like this any other year, Kansas State would have blinked, folded under the pressure.
Not this team. Backing down is never an option for this bunch.
Overcoming an ugly first 15 minutes offensively, the sixth-ranked Wildcats leaned on their defense and kept their composure in a tough atmosphere to pull out a defense-dominated 63-53 victory over gritty Missouri on Saturday night.
"It was a hard-fought game and our guys never lost their focus or their emotion because of the physical part of the game, because of mistakes, because of missed shots," coach Frank Martin said. "They stayed the course and when teams do that in a big game, you've got to be proud of them."
The Wildcats (24-4, 11-3 Big 12) watched the first half of top-ranked Kansas' loss to Oklahoma State and knew they had an opportunity. Instead of grabbing it, they missed one shot after another against Missouri's pressure defense, putting together their worst shooting half in 14 years (18 percent).
But the Wildcats didn't slump their shoulders, didn't let Missouri run away with it. Relying on defense, Kansas State broke out of its funk — at least partly — and took control with a 15-2 run early in the second half. The plucky team held on down the stretch to keep alive its slim hopes of tying rival Kansas for the Big 12 regular season title.
The Wildcats have their most wins since 1987-88 and can take another step Wednesday in Lawrence, where Allen Fieldhouse is sure to be rockin' for what could be the biggest game in the history of one of college basketball's most heated rivalries.
"Our team understands this could be our big push for the Big 12 championship," said Kansas State's Jacob Pullen, who had 11 points. "We get to go to KU and we have our destiny in our hands."
Missouri (21-8, 9-5) won the first meeting between the cross-state rivals on Jan. 9 with gritty defense and had Kansas State on its heels early in the rematch. The Tigers just couldn't sustain it and struggled to make shots against the Wildcats' relentless pressure without forward Justin Safford, who tore his ACL against Colorado on Wednesday.
Kim English had 13 points and J.T. Tiller added 11 for Missouri, which was 4 for 18 from 3-point range and shot 31 percent overall to lose its sixth straight in the Little Apple.
"We just played unaggressive," said Missouri's Keith Ramsey, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. "We stopped attacking and we weren't playing with each other like we normally do."
Kansas State wasn't a whole lot better. The Wildcats shot 4 of 17 from 3-point range and 33 percent overall, getting 10 points and 10 rebounds from Curtis Kelly and a 14-point effort from Jamar Samuels.
It was ugly from the start.
Missouri typically causes problems with its full-court pressure, forcing opponents to speed up and play out of control in what it calls "The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball."
An underrated part of the Tigers' defense is in halfcourt sets. They're quite good there, too, as Kansas State found out.
The Wildcats had trouble getting anywhere near the basket early, the ball in the hands of guards dribbling along the perimeter or high post players like Luis Colon, who didn't seem to want any part of it. The Wildcats missed the few open looks they got, opening the game 2 for 22 — with 18 straight misses — as Missouri built an 18-10 lead.
Then, almost in the snap of a fingers, the game took a 180-degree turn.
Kansas State started finding seams in Missouri's defense, reeling off a 10-2 half-closing run started by Pullen's 3-pointer with just under 6 minutes left. The Tigers also got a dose of Kansas State's suffocating halfcourt D and took their turn forcing shots, closing the half with nine straight misses.
By the time the ugliest 20 minutes of basketball was done, the teams had combined to miss 49 of 64 shots and scored 46 total points. Kansas State and Missouri had at least 46 points in a half by themselves 26 times this season.
And, you guessed it, it was tied, setting up 20 more minutes of physical basketball that Kansas State dug down and pulled out.
"They're trying to win something," Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. "They're in the hunt for something, just like we are. I thought it was just a basketball game between two good defensive teams that are familiar with one another."