LAWRENCE, Kan. - Twenty-five years ago nearly to this day, the clock at Kansas showed "00:00," the score read "Kansas State 72 Kansas 61," and Lon Kruger's first inclination was not to make too big a deal of it.
The Wildcats wouldn't strut around the court showing Jayhawk fans the front of their jerseys. Their coach certainly wouldn't show them his middle finger, as legend has it a certain Oklahoma coach once did after winning there.
"No, I don't think we did that," Kruger chuckles today.
"We just got to the locker room and acted like we expected it."
Still, no matter how hard the Wildcats tried, there was no denying it: Jan. 30, 1988, was a very big deal indeed. Kansas' four-year, 55-game homecourt winning streak was gone, leaving devastation behind.
"I feel like the world is over," KU starting guard Milt Newton told the Lawrence Journal-World.
This is what it's like for the Jayhawks to lose at Allen Fieldhouse. Current players will be as wrecked as Newton if KU falls to Kruger's Oklahoma Sooners this afternoon at 3 p.m. Their homecourt run is 32 and counting, and that just hints as their Allen Fieldhouse invincibility.
Over their last 102 home games, the Jayhawks are 101-1. It sounds like a record a second-grader might dream up on the playground to impress his pals.
But it is very real.
"Some kind of volume," OU assistant Steve Henson, Kruger's starting point guard in '88, describes "The Phog."
"Their fans know when a team is on the verge of collapse, and they change their pitch and involvement even more," says Mike Shepherd, an OU assistant who sat on K-State's bench that day in '88 as Kruger's head student manager. "They know the game so well that they understand their significance. It's a unique situation, it really is."
Thus Kruger's statement: "They haven't lost many in there."
Well, it happened 25 years ago.
Kruger has never been one to channel Rockne. So when he gathered his Wildcats in their cramped locker room beneath the Fieldhouse din, he got right to the point.
"You take on that mentality of 'It's just us' in pregame," Henson recalls. "It's just us, just the 15 or 18 guys getting ready to go out. Nobody else in the building is going to think we can get it done. The underdog mentality, the us-against-everyone-else mentality is a special feeling on the road."
Mentality wasn't the only thing working for K-State that day. The Wildcats played four seniors. One of them was All-American guard Mitch Richmond.
"KU has had a lot of talent over the years," Henson says, "but that wasn't one of their strongest teams, I don't think."
Not at the time. In another six weeks, Danny Manning would carry the Jayhawks to an improbable national championship. But Jan. 30, 1988, KU came in 11-6 and 1-2 in the Big 8 Conference. K-State was 3-0 in the league, with Richmond playing better than Manning and anyone else.
"Coach would always say how many Mitch would have to have for us to win," Shepherd says. "I think he had 33 at home when we beat Oklahoma. I guess that day, we needed 35 from him.
Richmond had 12 at the half as K-State trailed 31-29. He finished with 35.
"I remember Mitch being very big in that game," Kruger says. "I know we threw it to him a bunch down the stretch, and he kind of carried us home."
He scored 23 in the second half, including eight during an 11-1 run which catapulted the Wildcats ahead for good in the final eight minutes.
Manning finished with 21 points, but just six came after halftime.
"We didn't play any gimmick defense or anything," Kruger says, "other than anytime you have a player like that, our typical response is give extra help from other guys on the team."
"Back in those days, we played a lot of 3-2 zone," Henson recalls. "We had a lot of undersized interior guys that year, so we did a lot of that. When Manning caught it, we had to give him a lot of attention."
The Jayhawks might have liked to make K-State pay for that attention, but, as Shepherd points out: "KU was struggling to make shots at that time."
They went 4-of-16 from 3. The Wildcats went 9-of-12. Henson made both of his 3s and outplayed Edison product Kevin Pritchard, his friend from high school allstar camps, at the point. Marksman Will Scott made four.
It all blended perfectly. Experience. Composure (K-State went 10-of-10 from the line down the stretch). Shot-making. Toughness (K-State won the boards battle 36-22). A star playing to his capability.
Take these ingredients into Allen Fieldhouse, you have a prayer. It is answered every three or four years, every 55 or 60 games, and it leaves the Jayhawks in disbelief.
"I didn't think we'd ever lose here," forward Chris Piper told the Journal-World.
Twenty-five years ago, and despite how Kruger remembers it today, the mood at the other end of the Fieldhouse was quite different.
"I remember the excitement in our locker room once we got back there after the game," Shepherd says, "with Mark Dobbins and Mitch and Charlie (Bledsoe) and Will and Steve. It was an awfully, (ital) awfully (end ital) hard place to win basketball games.
"It still is."