The Kansas State Wildcats (11-7, 4-1 Big 12) just showed the most grit, the most toughness, the most intestinal fortitude of the season, fighting back from a fourteen-point deficit to defend home court against (22/23) Baylor Bears (13-4, 2-3 Big 12), 63-61.
Some colorful words have been used to describe this K-State squad recently...
But...here we are. After a big ol' dose of Hilton Magic tonight in Ames, Kansas State University sits alone in first place in the Big 12 conference standings at 4-1. K-State is on a 4-game winning streak, two of which are against ranked opponents. Seriously, now. Anyways, back to the game.
Throughout the game, Baylor showed exactly what we were concerned with on the outset. Excellent rebounding gave them multiple second chances and limited our do-overs; their zone defense turned us over quite frequently, and they were able to find their three-point shooters to take advantage of our collapsing and sub-standard on-ball defense.
K-State made the first bucket of the game, then Baylor simply took over. Across the following 9 minutes of gametime, Baylor took it to the Wildcats, amassing a 22-8 lead. The Cats weren't dead, though, and we started clawing our way back. Cut it to 10...then 8. Give up a bucket, then come back and cut it to 7. Then 5. Then 2, before Baylor hit a couple of threes in a row to take a 9-point lead into the locker room.
Coming out in the second half, it appeared to be more of the same; Baylor would eventually stretch the game back to 12, at 49-37 with 11:27 remaining. Things looked bleak, but time still remained. The Wildcats then, through some intelligent changes in matchups and directive, went on a 17-2 run over the next 5:51 to take a three-point lead. A lead we wouldn't surrender the remainder of the way in, though two more ties would occur over the last 5:36. When a Kenny Chery layup (that was pretty well defended by Thomas Gipson) bounced off the backboard, then rolled off the front of the rim into players' hands, the horn sounded. The Octagon of Doom did their job. #EMAW did their job. And, with a lot of heart and a lot of grit, the team did their job.
"They made good adjustments. They are a really good defensive team and it was difficult to score..." - Baylor guard Kenny Chery, post-game comments
"I think you really have to credit K-State for their execution in the second half." - Baylor coach Scott Drew, post-game comments
This was the second win over a ranked team in the last three games, and is the first in a string of five games against ranked opponents (and 6 out of 7). Securing the win today is a great step in keeping things sane over the next several weeks.
K-State shot an even 50% (23-46) from the floor today, mainly because of an offensive scheme that attacked Baylor's zone weak spots and found good, open, short-range shots.
We all had a pretty good idea Baylor would out-rebound us today. But only by 4 - 30-26 - which was one of my 3 keys to the game. Keeping the rebounding matchup close was huge in giving us a shot.
It's worth mentioning again - the Wildcats went on a 17-2 run over a 5:51 stretch in the middle of the second half to cut a 12-point Baylor lead into a 3-point K-State lead, keyed by:
K-State Player(s) Of The Game: Wesley Iwundu and Nino Williams
That run was initiated by two major items: first, Bruce Weber swapped Wes over to defend Baylor's point guard Kenny Chery, who was destroying us at the time; Iwundu's length and athleticism clearly bothered Chery, creating a couple of turnovers as well as keeping Chery from scoring. Second, Wes was able to make a couple of very good plays on offense, including an assist to Nino that got the run started, and a steal and runout (made 2 FTs) immediately after to continue that Wildcat run. Wes finished the game with 8 points, 6 assists, and 2 steals in 32 minutes.
Nino - who has been conspicuously ineffective recently - came up with bucket after bucket in that key run, working the weak spots on the baseline to come up with chip-shot finishes and 12-foot jumpers that tickled the nylon. Nino also held his own on the glass against much larger forward from Baylor, especially down the stretch. From the 11:27 point in the second half, Nino chalked up 12 points and 5 rebounds; he finished with a 18 points, 7 rebounds (both team highs) on 7-11 shooting and 4-4 FTs.
It is his opportunity, it is his game, it is his shot and it is his niche. He had a nice game; he reminded me that he got seven rebounds, six defensive rebounds and a big one down the stretch. - K-State coach Bruce Weber, on Nino Williams' play
Other Player Notes
Big man Thomas Gipson finished with 9 points, 6 rebounds in a team-high 36 minutes of gametime. Amazingly, he managed to pick up only 1 foul.
Marcus Foster - who actually sat the bench during the big second half run due to having 4 fouls, finished with 11 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals. Arguably one of the most complete games he's played all year, even though he didn't make it to 30 minutes of floor time.
Baylor had two 20-point scorers: Taurean Prince (20) and Kenny Chery (21). K-State managed to hold rebounder-extraordinaire Rico Gathers to 6 rebounds total, well below his league-leading 11.6rpg.
1. Are we possibly the best team in the country with more than 5 losses?
I know how ridiculous that question sounds, but its worth discussing. Debate away in the comments below. The whole resume doesn't necessarily say so, but it's possible to argue given results so far in conference play.
2. Guts and Glory.
The guys can celebrate a little after this win, because it was a gutsy, team effort. Remember how we were questioning the heart of this team just a couple weeks ago? Feel free to continue if you'd like, but I see a team that is buckling down and figuring out a way to win basketball games. It's not pretty. It's not conducive to longer-than-average lifespans for all of us. But they're wins, and that's something no one can take away.
3. We're three steps up an Empire State Building's worth of stairs.
This is a great win, and one that actually does mean something, but our next four opponents are at (11) Iowa State, vs. (24) Oklahoma State, vs. (16) West Virginia, and at (9) Kansas. Welcome to the 2014-2015 Big 12. Start climbing those stairs.
#EMAW heads to Ames to hopefully avoid the Hilton Magic, as they take on (11/13) Iowa State on Tuesday, January 20.