The Kansas State Wildcats (14-15, 7-9 Big 12) did the most K-State thing ever (if we can apply trends so far this year), gelling together, executing a gameplan, and taking down the (8)Kansas Jayhawks, 70-63. The win marks the first back-to-back home wins against KU since 1981-83.
Call me a lunatic, but I called this one. It just felt...appropriate. Somehow, this band of dysfunctional college kids and their nerf-like leader put together arguably their most complete effort and best team game so far this season, at a time when it was absolutely needed to find the victory.
Even more difficult to believe - this one came with Marcus Foster going 3-13 for 6 points, 0-6 from behind the arc. No, this one was ultimately won in the second half, with Marcus Foster on the bench.
Unlike the trip to Lawrence, the Cats came out of the gate and matched KU's intensity, but missed some early shot opportunities. KU's Perry Ellis had a special game, and started off very strong. However, the Cats had a plan to get the ball inside and play through Thomas Gipson. It worked, as Gipson scored the first four points for K-State, and held the Jayhawks close. The first half continued with K-State playing solid half-court defense, but Perry Ellis was just unstoppable, closing out the first half with 15 points, 4 boards. While KU did manage to stretch out to 6-point leads on a couple different occasions, K-State would claw their way back on mini-runs, and the teams traded punches, and leads 5 times. The Wildcats closed the half out on a 9-2 run, keyed on a three by Nigel Johnson, and punctuated by two makes from the charity stripe by Nino Williams. K-State led at the half, 31-30.
The Jayhawks would come out in the second half and go on a 11-2 run for an eight-point lead before Nigel Johnson again hit a bucket leading into the under-16 timeout, and Stephen Hurt knocked down a couple of big shots to bring the deficit manageable in that 4-6 point range. Down the stretch, it was the combination of Nigel Johnson, Justin Edwards, Wesley Iwundu, Thomas Gipson and Nino Williams that held this team together, playing pressure half-court man-to-man, and moving the ball effectively on offense to find good shots. Every time Ellis or Kelly Oubre, Jr. came up with a bucket, they had to work for it, and we were able to find an answer. An inside pass for a bucket at the rim by Gip or Edwards, a mid-range jumper by Nino, or a well-timed three from NJ. Able to hang around, K-State would finally take a 56-54 lead on two freebies by Gip with 8:01 left.
#EMAW wouldn't relinquish the remainder of the way.
Nino would score nine more points on the way in, and a final 17-footer by the resident professor of mid-range jumpers with 27.4 seconds left put the Cats up 68-63, and the final nail in the Jayhawk coffin on this night.
I had this game circled on the calendar since the schedule came out...February 23. On this day, holy happy birthday present, Batman.
The Wildcats outscored KU 21-11 over the last 10:00 of the game, including 10-5 the last 4:14 to seal the victory.
As mentioned before, the last time K-State won multiple games in a row, at home, against KU was in 1981-1983. I was born around the time of the first win in that stretch. 34 years, to be exact.
Eighty. Four. Point. Two. Percent. It's said over, and over, and over again - free throws win ballgames. K-State went 16-19 from the line tonight, for 84.2%. Don't tell me Nino and Gip stepping up and knocking down freebies wasn't huge.
KU is the best three-point shooting team in the league at just over 40% for the team. The Wildcats' gameplan to switch all perimeter screens on their weave play was a great idea, and allowed us to keep a hand in their face on shots from behind the arc. The Jayhawks were held to 15.4% 3PFG (2-13).
All things considered, we were actually outrebounded, 37-28.
You aren't going to believe this, but our combined point guard play of NJ and JT did not turn the ball over once. Yes, zero. Nada. Which leads me to...
K-State Player Of The Game: Nigel Johnson
ESPN's Sixth Man of the Game (yeah, no kidding) gets our POTG award tonight. NJ came off the bench to score a career high 20 points on 8-11 shooting (4-5 3PFG), and contributed 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and more importantly for our point guard - NO turnovers. Though he came off the bench, he played 28 of the available 40 minutes in the PG position for a Jevon Thomas that played great defense, but couldn't keep from fouling.
Other Player Notes
Nino Williams basically sealed this one for us, scoring 9 his 15 points down the stretch, and also came up with a couple of huge rebounds in the last 8 minutes. Overall, he finished with 15pts, 5reb, 2ast in 32 minutes.
Thomas Gipson was the guy who kept us in the game early, and came up with a big, timely bucket in the first 10 minutes of the second half, as well. The big man put up 12pts, 6reb, 1stl, 1blk in 31 minutes.
Stat Stuffer A: Wesley Iwundu, with 7pts, 3reb, 3ast, 3stl, 1blk.
Stat Stuffer B: Justin Edwards, with 6pts, 4reb, 4ast, 1stl.
As for Marcus Foster? Mostly forgettable, stat-wise; but he was able to contribute in many other ways. Foster got the start tonight, and again was the focus of the opposing defense. Foster never did get comfortable with his shot, finishing with 6 points on 3-13 shooting (0-6 from behind the arc), 1 rebound and 2 assists. He kept being aggressive, and kept acting like a legit scoring option. He also kept playing solid defense - something he isn't exactly known for. The kid played like he wanted to win...he just couldn't find the range.
KU's Perry Ellis had a ballgame, scoring a game-high 24 points, and adding 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, and 1 blocked shot. Kelly Oubre also poured in 14 points and 7 rebounds
"Big win! Thanks to all the K-State fans that showed love tonight. Best fans in the country hands down! #EMAW #DOOM" - Nigel Johnson, via Twitter
1. Winning Streak.
Yes, that's officially a winning streak against Kansas in the Octagon of Doom. Do with that what you will.
2. THIS is why this team has been so frustrating.
"...K-State would be in the Top 10 if it brought this kind of intensity every game." - Nino Williams, postgame
Nino...we can debate the Top 10 part, but the meaning of your comment. But you're not wrong. Not at all.
3. Planning for the Future.
What does this mean? In the long run, probably not much. If Weber's seat was hot before this game, his seat is probably still hot. But I would like to think that a game like this can prove what this team is truly capable of. I would like to think that a game like this would galvanize the squad, and be the formation of a positive direction into next season.
I've also been wrong before. But on this day? I was not. I'm on a roll with bold predictions.
Saturday brings our Farmageddon brothers in from Ames for an afternoon tilt against the Iowa State Cyclones in Bramlage Coliseum.