MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Texas coach Shaka Smart implored his team to play with some grit when it traveled to Kansas State on Saturday.
Courtney Ramey answered the call by setting the tone on the defensive end.
Then he caught fire at the other end.
Ramey continued his torrid scoring streak with a career-high 26 points, the Longhorns confused and flustered the slumping Wildcats the entire way, and the result was a 70-59 victory that was never as close as the final score indicated.
“Our guys have really taken ownership of what we've wanted them to do,” said Smart, whose team is suddenly back on the NCAA Tournament bubble. “It's hard to come in here and win if you don't have a lot of grit to you. I thought Courtney did a good job of setting the tone with that.”
Donovan Williams added 12 points and Matt Coleman III returned from the first missed game of his college career to also score 12, giving the Longhorns (16-11, 6-8 Big 12) two straight wins after a precipitous four-game slide.
“I just think our team spirit right now is high. A lot of people counted us out because we had a lot of injuries, but we believe in each other,” said Ramey, who rolled into Manhattan after games of 21 points against Iowa State and 15 against TCU. “We have a great chance of doing what we want at the end of the year.”
Xavier Sneed had 15 points and Makol Mawien 14 for the Wildcats, who went on a late run to leave the final score closer than it was much of the game. Kansas State (9-18, 2-12) has lost seven straight for the first time since 2001, and there's a good chance that skid will continue next week with games against No. 1 Baylor and third-ranked Kansas.
“We gave too many easy ones to them to start, then they made some 3s, and Ramey was special for them, especially in the first half,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. “The easy ones we had, the layups and free throws, those keep you in the game. We have to finish those. We didn't do it.”
The outcome for the throw-back game at Bramlage Coliseum on Saturday largely boiled down to a five-minute stretch in the first half in which the Longhorns could do little wrong and the Wildcats could do nothing right.
Texas was holding tight to a 26-20 lead when David Sloan committed turnovers on back-to-back possessions, leading to a pair of easy run-outs. Ramey had the first of them, then followed Brock Cunningham's dunk — and another turnover by the Wildcats' Mike McGuirl — with a 3-pointer and pair of free throws to highlight a run of 11 straight points.
Kansas State went the final 7 minutes, 40 seconds without a field goal and trailed 42-23 at the break, turning what had been a nip-and-tuck game for most of the first 10 minutes into a one-sided rout.
Ramey had nearly outscored the entire Kansas State team by himself over the first 20 minutes.
The sophomore, who'd been averaging just 10.5 points, opened the game with a 3-pointer to set the tone. He made the key baskets during the Longhorns' big first-half charge, then curled in another 3 at the buzzer to give him 21 at the half.
“I don't think anything has changed. Just being aggressive,” Ramey said. “Taking what the defense gives me.”
When the Wildcats finally picked up some momentum in the second half, Ramey answered with another jumper to help restore a 20-point cushion, and the Longhorns nursed that lead all the way to the finish.
“I thought we'd be ready to play. I thought the guys were pretty focused,” Weber said. “Some of it, credit to Texas. They stepped up and they're fighting for an NCAA bid, played at a special level, and I don't think our guys quit. But those missed layups, missed free throws, turnovers — they take a mental toll on you. Just too many of them put us in a bind.”
Kansas State played without freshman guard Montavious Murphy, who tweaked a previous knee injury in Wednesday night's loss at Texas Tech. Murphy missed seven games earlier this season with the same injury. That drives the number of games missed by regular contributors to 50 with four games left in the regular season.
Texas would love to get to .500 in league play by the Big 12 tournament to give its hopes of an NCAA at-large bid a major lift. That would mean winning three of its last four against West Virginia, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The Longhorns have already finished their season series against Baylor and Kansas.
Kansas State is simply trying to survive what has been a brutal season. Injuries have piled up, leadership has waned and Weber has spent entire games at a loss for what to do. And on Saturday, the Wildcats' stingy defense — the one thing that they've done well most of the year — was obliterated by hot shooting from the Texas backcourt.
Texas returns home to face the No. 17 Mountaineers on Monday night.
Kansas State visits the Bears, who lost to the Jayhawks earlier in the day, on Tuesday night.
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