The Kansas State Wildcats (13-13, 6-7 Big 12) managed to finally pick up their first win in their last six attempts, taking down and securing a season sweep of the (17)Oklahoma Sooners, 59-56. First and foremost - it stops our losing streak at five. Secondly, the win ended the Sooners' winning streak at five, as well.
I had a good feeling about this game. There's something that I just can't put my finger on that playing against the Sooners this year is a favorable matchup for us. I'm not sure why - they rebound the ball well, they force other teams into tough shots, and they have enough weapons to stress a defense. Just comparing stats and styles, you would think we'd be out-classed at almost every facet of the game.
And apparently, you would be wrong.
Of note, Marcus Foster and Malek Harris served their time and were made available to play for the game. Foster did not start, but he checked in for the first time at 14:06 mark in the first half, and Malek made his appearance with 12:02 to go in the opening stanza.
K-State came out of the gate very well, as a matter of fact. While the Cats weren't on fire by any means - 23.1% FG in the first half - they were aggressive, taking the ball right at Oklahoma on the offensive end, while playing in-your-face defense on the flipside. The aggressive play paid off, as the Cats forced 7 first-half Oklahoma turnovers, compiled 8 offensive rebounds, and drew foul after foul on the Sooners, getting to the line 15 times (connecting on 13). Swarming perimeter defense actually gave up some easy inside buckets, but kept the Sooners from shooting well beyond the arc, going 1-11 in the first half from three point land. The Sooners looked to be the better team yet, and took a one-point lead into the locker room.
K-State's aggressiveness was very apparent coming out in the second half as well, but the Sooners were handling. Oklahoma would eventually stretch their lead to the biggest of the game - a 6-point spread - just over 2 minutes into the half. The pressure and pointed attack would eventually start to wear down Lon Krueger's squad, as fouls continued to mount (key big man Ryan Spangler would foul out with 8:15 left), and the Cats clawed their way back to take the lead at 38-37 with 12:33 left on a pair of Wesley Iwundu free throws. The Wildcats stretched their lead to as many as seven, behind free throws, a couple of timely Justin Edwards threes, and a raucous Octagon of Doom crowd. They maintained that seven point advantage to the 3:51 mark.
Unfortunately, this K-State team can't quite get their hands wrapped around playing with prosperity, and decided to make it a game again. Oklahoma (more accurately, Jordan Woodard) went on a run to bring it back to a tie game at 56-all, because of foul after foul by the Wildcats. Then, this:
Well, Foster made his mark on the Sooners...again. K-State, up three, would foul early on the inbounds, sending the Sooners to the line. A missed FT, followed by one of the worst attempts at an intentional miss I've seen, and the Wildcats were able to close this one out
But lets chat about the end of the game for a few minutes from a planning standpoint. The only thing Bruce did right the final four minutes of the game was the foul at halfcourt being up three. I feel this is the right play in almost every situation. For Oklahoma to tie the game, multiple things have to go right - make the first, intenionally miss the second, secure the rebound, and make a putback...just to go to overtime. Conversely, without the foul - they have to simply just get lucky on one shot for the same outcome. With the type of players Oklahoma has, and Spangler out of the game, this decision actually made sense.
Outside of that, the closeout of this game was absolutely atrocious. Now, I don't know the reason for sure, but either Bruce Weber absolutely sucks at situational coaching (out-of-bounds plays, single scripted plays, etc.), or we have the least coachable players on the planet, bar none. Its a possibility its a combination of both. Having a screen-based set to get the ball in bounds on the baseline after a made basket against pressure is something even junior high basketball teams have. Apparently we don't. Our guys just cut back and forth, don't set screens, and subsequently, can't get open. With under four minutes to go, Wes turned the ball over once trying to throw a pass that wasn't open, called a timeout because he couldn't get the ball in, and I'll be damned if after that very timeout - where Weber HAS to design a play to get people open - we didn't come right out and do the SAME THING. Luckily, Thomas Gipson's good hands snared the ball on a bad pass, and we were able to break the pressure.
The frequency with which this happens - not being able to inbound against pressure - is high enough that this isn't a player problem. This is a coaching problem. The fact that we were able to win after having to overcome this multiple times...we won this game despite Bruce Weber, not because of him.
K-State went to the line an astonishing 36 times Saturday, connecting on 28 of them for a 77.8% rate. Conversely, Oklahoma went to the line 17 times, hitting 13. Before you think this is lopsided...it could have arguably been a worse disparity. As for actual fouls committed? OU 24, K-State 18. Not that out of line, given the way the Cats attacked the rim.
Just over 1-out-of-4 was our efficiency at shooting the ball from the floor. We did manage to go 33% from beyond the arc, but this is the worst shooting performance in a win all season.
K-State outrebounded the Sooners by 9, 36-27. This was a huge factor in the game, as the Wildcats also earned more offensive rebounds, 14-7, leading to a 15-7 advantage for K-State in second chance scoring.
K-State Player Of The Game: Wesley Iwundu
I'm going a different direction with this one. Wesley Iwundu was likely the most important player on the floor, and he stepped up. Wes finished with 9 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals, going 6-6 from the charity stripe. While he did amass an 0-5 shooting effort inside the arc, he took on the challenge of defending Big 12 POY candidate Buddy Hield for 35 minutes, and kept him to 14 points (including a garbage three that he banked in), and kept him from being truly effective, after Hield went for 31 against us in the first contest in Norman.
Other Player Notes
Nino Williams scored 10 in the first half on his way to 13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists in a team-high 36 minutes.
Justin Edwards got the start, and actually hit a couple of big threes to put K-State on top in the second half. Edwards finished with 9 points, 4 rebounds and a steal.
Marcus Foster came off the bench and played 25 minutes, leading the team in scoring with 14, including the game winner with 4 seconds left. He also contributed 2 rebounds, an assist, and a steal; he also played arguably the best on-ball defense I've seen from him in a K-State uniform.
Brandon Bolden took a hard fall in the first half, hitting his face on the floor and apparently injuring his left arm; he walked off the floor under his own power, but with an air splint on his lower left arm. Unconfirmed, it's a broken wrist.
Buddy Hield still had some success, finishing with 14 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. Jordan Woodard chipped in 13, and TaShawn Thomas finished with 10 points and 5 rebounds.
"They were just more aggressive than us on both ends of the floor. I feel like they fought harder on every possession." - TaShawn Thomas, postgame
1. Three Keys
We uglied it up. We rebounded well, especially keeping them off the offensive boards. And the integration of Foster and Harris into the rotation didn't significantly screw up the chemistry. We had a plan, and for the most part, we executed it.
2. Win on Hustle.
The guys played hard the entire game. Sure, there were some lapses every now and then, but it's hard to be intense for the full 40. We aren't as talented as Oklahoma, but we were able to win because of players playing like they wanted to win. Getting in there and banging around. Stepping up and making free throws. Putting their effort in on the defensive end. Finishing the play out by securing rebounds.
3. Planning for the Future.
First things first - we've got a road trip to
TCU a Fort Worth high school to take on the Horned Frogs, a team that just beat down OSU in the second half of their game Saturday. We need to keep building off the good things in the last two games and come out and pick up a win in Fort Worth on Wednesday. More importantly, we need to start stockpiling for the next couple seasons. Being able to gut out wins against ranked opponents will help this team moving forward.
On Wednesday, February 18, #EMAW travels to Fort Worth to take on the TCU Horned Frogs. The game will be played in a larger high school gym due to ongoing renovations at TCU's home floor.