MANHATTAN (AP) — D.J. Johnson didn’t want his final game in Bramlage Coliseum to be a defeat.
He doesn’t want his final game to be in the NIT, either.
So, the senior forward for Kansas State responded to a backs-against-the-wall game against Texas Tech on Saturday with 19 points, leading the mercurial bubble-dwelling Wildcats to a 61-48 victory that gave their NCAA Tournament hopes an important boost.
“We just wanted to win. Nobody likes to lose,” Johnson said. “We work hard for everybody. We work hard for this team. We don’t play to lose. That’s our motivation.”
Fellow senior Wesley Iwundu added 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats (19-12, 8-10), who also snapped a four-game home skid and locked up the No. 6 seed for next week’s Big 12 Tournament.
That means Kansas State will have a first-round bye for the first time in three years.
Texas Tech (18-13, 6-12) may have had its own NCAA Tournament hopes dumped with its ninth straight road defeat. The Red Raiders haven’t won back-to-back games since December.
Keenan Evans and Niem Stevenson led them with 11 points apiece.
“I thought Kansas State outplayed us for 40 minutes,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “This is one of the many challenges in the first year, you’re just trying to build something. Some days it looks pretty good, some days it doesn’t. We’ll just get back to work.”
Kansas State controlled the game most of the entire way, opening with a 9-0 run and then answering a 16-2 spurt by Texas Tech with a 17-3 run over nearly eight minutes midway through the first half.
The Wildcats eventually pushed a 34-22 halftime lead to 17 points on a couple of occasions in the second half. Johnson was the biggest factor, getting loose inside for a couple easy baskets.
“He’s one of the best players in the Big 12,” Beard said. “Very consistent, very productive.”
Kansas State’s defense helped, too. Texas Tech had four shot-clock violations in the first half alone.
The Red Raiders closed the gap to 12 a couple of times in the second half, but turnovers and some faulty shooting prevented them from ever making it a game down the stretch.
“I think we played smart. We didn’t play pretty but we played smart,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. “Got it to D.J. in the first half, Wes made some great post entries and we played our butts off.”
Texas Tech: Will play on the opening night of the Big 12 Tournament, and almost certainly needs to win four games in four days and claim the championship to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Kansas State: Still has work left to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday. At least one victory at the Sprint Center would take some of the pressure off after missing the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons.
K-STATE’S INTERIM A.D.
Laird Veatch has spent a hectic few days getting up to speed after athletic director John Currie left for the same job at Tennessee. The associate A.D. takes over at a difficult juncture with Weber’s status in question and football coach Bill Snyder undergoing treatment for throat cancer.
“This has all happened pretty quick,” Veatch said, when asked about the basketball program. “The standard has always been to wait until the end of the season to assess and talk about those things.”
BEARD STUMPS FOR WEBER
Texas Tech’s new coach spent most of his postgame availability stumping for Weber to keep his job, calling his Kansas State counterpart “one of the best coaches in the country.” The Red Raiders rallied from seven down to beat the Wildcats 66-65 earlier this season.
SPEAKING OF SNYDER
After missing a couple of games this season, Snyder was back in his familiar aisle seat a few rows behind the Kansas State bench. He received a standing ovation midway through the first half and blew kisses to the crowd. Snyder expects to be coaching spring practice later this month.
Kansas State and Texas Tech head to the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, Missouri.
KANSAS ST. 61, TEXAS TECH 48
TEXAS TECH (18-13)
Gray 1-6 3-3 5, Ross 1-4 0-0 2, Smith 2-3 1-2 6, Stevenson 3-7 5-7 11, Evans 4-14 1-2 11, Livingston 3-6 0-0 9, Brandsma 0-0 0-0 0, Temple 0-1 0-0 0, Thomas 1-2 0-0 2, Millinghaus 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 16-45 10-14 48.
KANSAS ST. (19-12)
Johnson 8-11 3-4 19, Wade 3-6 3-4 11, Iwundu 3-7 3-3 10, Stokes 2-8 1-2 5, B.Brown 1-7 1-3 4, Budke 0-1 0-0 0, Sneed 1-4 0-0 2, Maurice 3-4 1-1 7, Ervin 0-0 0-0 0, Winter 0-0 0-0 0, Patrick 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 22-50 12-17 61.
Halftime—Kansas St. 34-22. 3-Point Goals—Texas Tech 6-19 (Livingston 3-6, Evans 2-6, Smith 1-2, Gray 0-1, Stevenson 0-2, Ross 0-2), Kansas St. 5-16 (Wade 2-2, Patrick 1-2, B.Brown 1-3, Iwundu 1-3, Budke 0-1, Stokes 0-2, Sneed 0-3). Fouled Out—Ross. Rebounds—Texas Tech 31 (Smith 6), Kansas St. 26 (Iwundu 10). Assists—Texas Tech 8 (Smith, Thomas 2), Kansas St. 17 (Stokes 7). Total Fouls—Texas Tech 21, Kansas St. 14. A—12,290 (12,528).