KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas State felt right at home in the Sprint Center and the Wildcats are hoping the purple-clad sellout crowd will be a help in facing top-ranked Duke.
Jacob Pullen scored 18 points and Kansas State (No. 3 ESPN/USA Today, No. 4 AP) pulled away in the second half for an 81-64 victory over Gonzaga (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today, No. 22 AP) on Monday night in the semifinals of the CBE Classic.
Will Spradling added 13 points for the Wildcats (4-0), who will play No. 1 Duke in the championship game Tuesday night about a 2-hour drive from campus.
"It's a great opportunity even though it's early in the season," Kansas State's Rodney McGruder said. "This is basically a home game for us, we have a lot of our fans here. It will be a great experience."
It will be a winning one if the Wildcats can shoot the 3 the way they did against Gonzaga (2-2) when they made 12 of 26 (46 percent).
"We stayed the course and obviously when you make 3s the way we made them today, it gives you a chance to win," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said.
Kansas State seemed to be in control in the first half against Gonzaga, taking a 49-32 lead on a 3-pointer by Victor Ojeleye with 2:20 to go. The Bulldogs scored the last six points of the half to get within 11 and then opened the second half on 9-4 run to get within 53-47 on two free throws by Robert Sacre with 16:45 to play.
"We relaxed defensively and we get outrun down the floor three straight times and give up layups," Martin said. "The pace was going the way you need and you do that."
Pullen hit a 3 to start an 8-0 run that was part of a 12-3 run that made it 65-50 with 12:22 to go and the Wildcats went on to lead by as many as 20, the last time at 76-56 on a basket by Freddy Asprilla with 5:22 to go.
"We knew it was going to be a tough task and it certainly was," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "Kansas State has got a great team. They are a load to prepare for. It's tough to get the ball into a good offensive position and get good shots against their half-court defense. They were terrific in transition. We never really did solve the transition defensive aspect of it.
"Yet, we had still a couple of chances there in the second half. I think we cut it to four and missed a little bunny and they went down and hit a 3. They can hurt you in a lot of different ways."
Kansas State finished 29 of 57 from the field (50.9 percent).
Sacre led the Bulldogs with 17 points, while Steven Gray added 15 on 6-for-15 shooting. Gray, the lone senior on the Gonzaga roster, came in averaging 25.7 points.
"Steve had some chances tonight," Few said. "He missed a breakaway lay-in. I actually need to give him a blow. He missed a couple of bunnies he normally doesn't miss or he would have been up in 20s."
Gonzaga was 19 for 57 from the field, including 3 of 13 on 3-pointers (23.1 percent).
Kansas State center Curtis Kelly saw his first action of the season after being held out of the first three games for reasons Martin would not disclose. The 6-foot-8 senior scored his first points of the season on a three-point play with 13:57 left in the game and the crowd of 18,630 erupted when he made the layup and was fouled. He finished with three points and four rebounds.
"It was his first game back. He was a little rusty," Pullen said. "I told him he was like an old man just picking up a ball again."
The second-biggest cheer of the game went to Pullen when he dived over the first row of seats near midcourt. He wasn't able to save the turnover but when he stepped on a seat to jump back on the court the crowd showed their appreciation for the hustle play with a long cheer.
Kansas State improved to 6-2 all-time at the Sprint Center, where the Big 12 will hold its postseason tournament.
The loss was the second in this tournament for Gonzaga. The Bulldogs lost to then-No. 25 San Diego State at home in a CBE regional but the four hosts schools were guaranteed advancing to the semifinals.
"This was a tough venue," Few said. "You walk out in a neutral-court situation and the whole arena is in purple. I can't say I like that as much. We knew this was going to be kind of a home court situation [for Kansas State]. ... It's a great experience for us. We've just got to take the positive out of it."
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