It wasn't pretty, but K-State will be more than happy to take its 63-53 victory over Missouri and move right on down the road.
Like the first matchup this season between these two, I'm sure this game did nothing good for mystman995's blood pressure, nor any of the rest of us for that matter. Mizzou not only avoided getting buried early, it actually built a 10-point lead with less than five minutes to go in the first half. The Wildcats answered with a 10-0 run to tie it at halftime. I turned to Panjandrum when we were down 23-16 and said that I would be happy to get within five by the break. Turning it around and forging a tie after the first 20 minutes was a huge swing in momentum.
The second half was pretty much all K-State, as a tie game turned into an 11-point lead for the home team after less than eight minutes. To Mizzou's credit, it was a battle all the way to the end, but the Tigers never could cut the lead to less than five the rest of the way. And everytime Missouri seemed on the verge of getting back in the game, K-State had found a way to answer.
Let's get into the high points and low points of this one.
What I liked:
Realizing when you're not hot. K-State averages almost 19 three-pointers per game on the season. Last night, we took only 17, making only four. It was a testament to the shot selection of Jake Pullen and Denis Clemente that they didn't continue to wildly fire from deep when it was obvious they weren't hitting. Along with that point...
Taking advantage of our frontcourt. Before the last game against Mizzou, we knew we needed to get the ball inside, to get Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels and Dominique Sutton matched up against MU's smaller and thinner front line. We all know how that turned out. In this game, it was doubly important to go inside, as the loss of Justin Safford made the Tigers even thinner in the paint. Jamar Samuels led all scorers with 14, while Curtis Kelly chipped in another 10, and with 10 rebounds to boot.
Winning ugly. Panjandrum said it over and over again during the game. Mizzou was getting us to play exactly how it wanted. At times we were sped up, and at least in the first half, we seemed uncomfortable. It's a credit to the players that they kept their poise, only turning the ball over 14 times in the game (below our season average). Even though we couldn't make shots, we didn't panic and we kept up the intensity on the defensive end. That's easier said than done.
What I didn't like:
Inability to impose our will. This is a minor gripe, and is basically the converse of the last item mentioned above. But we let Missouri come into our arena and dictate the pace and flow of the game. In the first half, that meant being a little sped up and a little uncomfortable. In the second half, that meant an inability to bury Mizzou when the opportunity presented itself. Once we went up 11, I thought we might really open the flood gates and win by 20. Again, a lot of credit goes to Missouri for not allowing that to happen, but I would have liked to see our guys put the game away more quickly.
What it means and where we're going
You all know where we're going. Next up on the slate is a trip to Lawrence for the rematch with KU. Oklahoma State did us a big favor yesterday, beating the 'beaks to preserve the possibility that we can still win the regular-season conference championship. Now, we have to do something none of the last 58 teams to visit Allen Fieldhouse have been able to do to keep those hopes alive.
Wednesday will also be senior night, which means KU hopes it will be a two-hour salute to Sherron Collins. Few college basketball players have thrived in the spotlight like Collins has, and he might step up to the moment and put on a show that will bury the visitors early. Or, he may press and force shots that, if they're not falling, lead to frustration and anxiety for the home team and crowd. K-State has been tremendous on the road this season, going
6-0 6-1 thus far in conference play away from home. If our players treat this as "just another road game," I'm confident this will be a battle for 40 minutes. That's all I can ask.
As for the rest of the Big 12, we now stand a full two games clear of Missouri, Baylor and Texas A&M for second place. As you know, we own outright tiebreakers over the Bears and Aggies. As hard as it may be to believe, we still have not wrapped up a first-day bye in the Big 12 Tournament. If we lose to KU and ISU, while Mizzou and Baylor and Texas A&M win out, we would be the fifth seed because we would have a worse record against the North than Missouri, and Texas A&M and Baylor own tiebreakers over Missouri. However, our magic number to clinch the second seed is one, as a win over either KU or Iowa State make it impossible for any of the teams behind us to catch up, and a loss by any of those teams dooms their chances.
The race for the last two first-day byes is so convoluted that I'll have to let someone smarter than myself figure it out (ahem, Bill C. at Rock M Nation, you are being paged). An impressive five teams are still in play for those last two spots, all the way down to Oklahoma State. By the way, how much separation have the top seven teams in this conference shown? Texas and Oklahoma State are tied for sixth at 8-6 right now, a full four games clear of the trio of teams tied for eighth place.