Travis Ford believed it would take Oklahoma State's best basketball yet this season to take down No. 17 Kansas State.
He got a superlative performance out of first-year player Jean-Paul Olukemi and a shutdown defensive effort down the stretch to start Big 12 play with a win.
Olukemi set career-highs with 22 points and 11 rebounds in his Big 12 debut and fueled a big second-half run as Oklahoma State raced past the Wildcats 76-62 Saturday.
It was the first game against a Top 25 team this season for the Cowboys (13-2, 1-0 Big 12).
"We needed to beat a top team," said OSU's Marshall Moses, who added 16 points and nine rebounds. "Not saying the teams we've beaten in the past and before conference weren't good, but they weren't Kansas State. I don't think we've played a team as good as Kansas State yet.
"I think it's safe to say that, and to beat a team like this and to prove to us that we can compete in this league, be a top three or four team in this league and make it to the NCAA tournament, we needed this win."
Olukemi provided 11 points during a 27-7 surge that propelled the Cowboys into the lead while Kansas State (12-4, 0-1) failed to score a basket for nearly eight minutes. Keiton Page also scored 16 and Matt Pilgrim matched his career-best with four of Oklahoma State's 11 steals.
Preseason All-America guard Jacob Pullen scored 20 points and Rodney McGruder added 19 to lead the Wildcats as the preseason conference favorites played their fifth straight game without suspended No. 2 scorer Curtis Kelly.
K-State had its top four remaining frontcourt players foul out, and no one was able to make up for the absence of Kelly.
"The one constant with our bigs, which I'm unhappy again today, it's a twofold thing: turnovers on offense, lack of defensive rebounding," Wildcats coach Frank Martin said. "If you look, that's what we had today. Our front line had turnovers on offense and very little defensive rebounds."
Jamar Samuels and Wally Judge, starting in Kelly's place, each had five of K-State's 21 turnovers and combined for nine rebounds in 51 minutes. Both fouled out, along with reserves Freddy Asprilla and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts.
"Their guys drive the ball from the wing to the rim. We don't rotate, we don't take charges, we just kind of whack guys. Those are bad fouls," Martin said.
"That's bad defense, and that's kind of what we did today."
The Wildcats lost in Gallagher-Iba Arena for the 11th straight time since 1994 — before the start of Big 12 play — after leading by eight midway through the second half.
Judge opened the door for the Cowboys' comeback by dragging down Olukemi while chasing down a loose ball in the backcourt. Olukemi hit the ensuing free throws, and Page hit three more after drawing a foul by McGruder on a pump fake. Olukemi then tied it at 49 with a driving three-point play to finish an 8-0 run by Oklahoma State.
But that was just the beginning for the Cowboys.
Olukemi's putback started another run of 11 points in a row for Oklahoma State — including two after a technical foul against Samuels — and his 3-pointer from the left wing made it 63-54 with 4:45 remaining. An Olukemi free throw pushed the lead to 68-56 before McGruder finally broke Kansas State's drought with a basket at the right block with 2:16 left.
"When our back's been against the wall, whoever it's been against ... we seem to respond when things get tough," Ford said. "That's a dangerous way to live. We don't want to live that way. That's not what we need. We can't turn it off and on, and we seem to be doing that."
Martin called timeout just after McGruder's basket and put Pullen on the bench — already crowded with all his disqualified frontcourt players — for the rest of the game with the Wildcats down 10.
"We made free throws today and we couldn't do much else right," Martin said. "It was a hard, physical game."
Kansas State led 47-39 after McGruder's 3-pointer from the left wing with 10:10 to play, quickly regaining control in the second half after the Cowboys had scored the final seven points to pull into a tie at halftime.
Even then, the Wildcats were coming off a six-minute stretch without a basket, having built a 28-21 lead with a 10-1 run mostly built on free throws.
"We were pretty good today for about 31 minutes. We didn't handle a three-minute segment of the game very well," Martin said. "It's our job to go teach our guys and understand the things that hurt us, why those mistakes cost you games. We'll do that.
"I'm not into predicting, but I think our guys will come back and be prepared and excited to go."