Jacob Pullen. Jacob Pullen. Jacob Pullen.
The name is worth repeating.
On Saturday at the Ford Center, he delivered THE performance of the NCAA Tournament. On offense, he drained seven three-pointers on his way to a career high 34 points. On defense, he locked down on BYU star Jimmer Fredette and held him to a below-average night.
And with Kansas State’s leading scorer playing so well in an 84-72 victory over BYU in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, basketball fans across the country are sure to be hearing more about him as the Wildcats head to Salt Lake City for the Sweet 16.
Coming into Saturday’s action, much of the attention that is being thrown at Pullen was focused on Fredette.
The Cougars’ best player led his team to the field of 32 by scoring 37 points against Florida, and was viewed by many as the top offensive player in March Madness.
After watching him play, it’s clear the guy is very talented. But Pullen frustrated him throughout the game.
Aside from a few shaky moments early, when BYU raced to a 10-0 lead and Dominique Sutton and Martavious Irving over defended Fredette, K-State was terrific against him.
It has Pullen to thank. After that initial burst, K-State coach Frank Martin put Pullen in charge of defending Fredette. He hounded him with legal hand checks in the open court, forced him to waste all kinds of energy dribbling around screens and even picked his pocket a time or two while anticipating his cross over.
Sutton was a little too tall to do the same, but he was pumped to see Pullen doing everything coach’s asked him to do in the scouting report.
“Jake defended him as well as anyone could,” Sutton said. “He got after him, and really wore him down. At halftime you could just see the fatigue factor setting in. Fredette looked tired.”
And frustrated. He went on to score 21 points, but at halftime he had only scored six. BYU’s 10-0 lead had also turned into a 41-31 deficit. Pullen, by comparison, had scored 20 points and was strutting up court with his arm in the air after several deep threes.
Watching Pullen do his thing was enough for Curtis Kelly to say to himself during the game, “we’re destined to win.”
When Pullen is by far the best player on both ends of the court, it’s hard to think otherwise.
Emptying the notebook:
– What is going on with Jamar Samuels? A game after playing less than 10 minutes and scoring two measly points he came out and scored just one against the Cougars.
It’s amazing to think K-State won two NCAA Tournament games by double digits this week with its sixth man contributing three points.
– Pullen injured his ribs while diving for a loose ball in the first half against BYU. He was in considerable pain at the time and said he still was after the game. But the help of teammates and adrenaline put him over the top and helped him keep playing. He anticipates playing at 100 percent in Salt Lake City.
– Wally Judge is really coming on. Now that coaches are giving him a little freedom on the court, he is routinely grabbing key rebounds and making nice moves on offense. Against BYU, he went for eight points and eight boards.
– Denis Clemente may have been overshadowed by Pullen, but he played a very good game. The senior went for 19 points, and was tenacious. He also showed great leadership when K-State fell behind 10-0. He repeatedly told his teammates, “this is not the time to go crazy.”
Player of the game: As he walked off the court at the Ford Center, fans chanted Jacob Pullen’s name and a girl held up a sign asking if he would marry her. The night belonged to him.
Play of the game: It wasn’t so much a play, but when K-State players emerged from a timeout 2:26 into the game it was obvious they were ready to go. Yeah, they trailed 10-0 at the time, but nobody panicked or even appeared concerned. They all knew that if they hit the reset button and played their way the rest of the game, they would win. And they did.
Do this again: Pullen seems to thrive when faced with a difficult defensive assignment. He doesn’t seem to tire from the extra work and actually scores more on offense. Sutton is the better overall defender, and brings less to the table offensively, so I know why coaches like starting him on the other team’s best player. But maybe they should just let Pullen handle it from now on.
Try to avoid: Pittsburgh, Xavier and Syracuse all have good big men. Samuels will need to produce more than three points in two games against them.
Bottom line: K-State is headed to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 22 years. That’s a great achievement for this group. But it has bigger goals in mind, like the Final Four. If Pullen continues to play the way he did in Oklahoma City, the Wildcats could be headed there at this time next week.