Third NCAA Time's Not the Charm for Mean Green

K State routs North Texas 82-62 in West Regional

On an opening day of upsets and close calls in the NCAA tournament, Kansas State got an early scare.

It lasted 10 minutes.

Denis Clemente had 17 points and six assists, leading the second-seeded Wildcats to an 82-62 rout of North Texas on Thursday in the West Regional.

Kansas State (27-7) gathered itself after a shaky start, riding its defense into the second round for the second time in three years. The Wildcats held the Mean Green (24-9) to 31 percent shooting and stymied Josh White's forays into the lane, holding North Texas' leading scorer to three points.

Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly added 15 points each, and Kansas State had a 46-21 advantage inside to avoid joining the list of opening-day upset victims.

Next up is No. 7 seed BYU and sharpshooter Jimmer Fredette. The Wildcats should have an advantage, too; while they cruised in the first round, BYU needed two overtimes to beat Florida.

Tristan Thompson had 28 points to lead North Texas, 0-3 all-time in the NCAA tournament.

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The win is the latest step in Kansas State's transformation into the program coach Frank Martin envisioned when he took over for Bob Huggins three years ago.

The high-decibel coach once considered a babysitter for Michael Beasley has molded the Wildcats in his always-the-underdog image, getting them to play every possession as if it were the last of their careers.

Kansas State set a school record for wins and earned its best seeding ever, nabbing the second-highest of the Big 12's record seven NCAA berths after a season that included five wins over Top 25 teams.

Once hidden by the plains of Kansas, the Wildcats have moved into the national spotlight with their athletic, relentless style. They were even picked to reach the Final Four by President Barack Obama, who said he might tap the fire-breathing Martin to help him push through his health-care bill on Capitol Hill.

The Wildcats have enjoyed the attention, even if it hasn't changed their mindset.

Coming off a disappointing loss to top-ranked Kansas in the Big 12 title game, Kansas State went back to its nobody-believes-in-us mantra, turning practices into battles that left Kelly proudly sporting two cuts on his lip.

Turns out, North Texas was ready, too.

Spinning the Wildcats' game around on them, the Mean Green hounded Kansas State into one miss after another and had seven offensive rebounds in first nine minutes to stay within 18-13.

A surprise, but maybe not shocking.

The Mean Green set a school record for wins, won the Sun Belt Conference tournament and ended the season on an 11-game winning streak. They didn't embarrass themselves in two games against Big 12 teams, either, losing by 14 to Oklahoma State and 10 to Texas A&M.

The success didn't last against Kansas State, though.

Led by defense, Kansas State got out on the break, hitting three straight layups -- two by Pullen -- to go up 30-16 with just over 5 minutes left. Clemente took over after that, hitting two late 3-pointers, and Kansas State held North Texas to 5-of-24 shooting to lead 41-25 at halftime.

Scare over.

Kansas State made sure the rout was never in doubt after that, leaving Clemente time to clean the floor for one of the ball boys and Pullen to take an extended rest after a hard fall.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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