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Big 12 quarterfinal action pits Cyclones against Wildcats

<p>The Big 12 Conference Tournament quarterfinals will tip off on Thursday afternoon at the Sprint Center with a matchup between the fifth-seeded Kansas State Wildcats and the fourth-seeded Iowa State Cyclones.</p>

Kansas City, MO (SportsNetwork.com) - The Big 12 Conference Tournament quarterfinals will tip off on Thursday afternoon at the Sprint Center with a matchup between the fifth-seeded Kansas State Wildcats and the fourth-seeded Iowa State Cyclones.

Kansas State experienced a strong season, going 10-8 in league play and 20-11 overall, while enjoying a few weeks among the likes of the nationally ranked. A large majority of the Wildcats' success this season came on their home floor, however, going a mere 5-9 in combined road and neutral-court games, and they come into this event having lost two straight games.

Iowa State has been excellent this season at 23-7 overall and 11-7 in league play, which includes a 4-0 mark at neutral sites, and should be in line for a favorable seed in the NCAA Tournament considering its strong non-conference wins too (Michigan, BYU, Iowa). The Cyclones snapped a two-game skid in the regular-season finale with an 85-81 overtime victory versus Oklahoma State.

The teams split two games in the regular season, with each squad winning on its home floor. Kansas State leads the storied series by a 135-82 count.

K-State ended the regular season with a 76-74 loss at the hands of Baylor last Saturday, coughing up a 12-point second-half lead in the process. They were outshot from the field, 50 percent to 42.9 percent, and a 5-of-11 showing from the foul line over the final 20 minutes played a part in their collapse. Marcus Foster did all he could to lift the team to victory with an outstanding 7-of-11 performance from 3-point range on his way to 29 points. Thomas Gipson (16 points), Nino Williams (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Will Spradling (eight assists) were also stellar despite the loss.

The Wildcats have been led by its stout defense this season, which gives up only 64.9 ppg, and it's a good thing too considering their less-than-stellar offensive effort (69.2 ppg). The team also owns positive margins in both the rebounding (+1.7) and turnover (+0.3) battles. Foster puts up a team-best 15.4 ppg and has stepped up down the stretch, scoring more than that average in eight of the last 12 games. Gipson (11.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg) mans the paint for K- State and Shane Southwell brings 9.5 ppg to the table.

After trailing for the majority of regulation their last time out, including by 16 early in the second half, the Cyclones stormed back to tie the game with a Naz Long 3-pointer at the buzzer and pulled away in the extra session for the four-point win. DeAndre Kane was his usual well-rounded self with 27 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Georges Niang netted 22 points, Long scored 14 off the bench and Melvin Ejim (12 points, eight rebounds) and Dustin Hogue (12 rebounds) were both solid in the frontcourt.

Iowa State is tied with Oklahoma for first in the league and seventh in the nation in scoring this season with 82.5 ppg and are led by the Big 12 Player of the Year Ejim, who pours in a conference-best 18.2 ppg on 51.3 percent field goal shooting to go with 8.6 rpg. Kane could have just as easily earned the honor, as he stuffs the stat sheet with 17.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.9 apg and 1.3 spg, while Niang (16.2 ppg) and Hogue (10.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg) round out the balanced Cyclones, who boast a +1.5 turnover margin and knock down more than eight 3-pointers per contest.

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