K-State got off to a quick start with great shooting from Wesley Iwundu, with a couple of slashing one-on-one move layups, and some solid mid-range game from Stephen Hurt - and a three peppered in there by Dean Wade, which allowed the Cats to jump out to a 19-8 lead by the 14:30 mark. The Wildcats would maintain a lead of 9 to 13 points through much of the first half, until a 9-0 run across just under three minutes later in the half, sparked by reserve Luke Petrasek with a three and a dunk, brought Columbia to within 4. Trading shots for the rest of the half (and a solid defensive stand on the last possession) put K-State up by 5 at the break.
The first thing I wrote on the board [before the game] is, 'Be a player, don't watch the play, make plays.' - Bruce Weber
Then, Justin Edwards went nuts. Coming out of the locker room, Edwards hit a three, made a tip-in off a Kamau Stokes miss and was fouled (made the FT), assisted on a Stephen Hurt layup, and made another three, to stretch the lead from 5 to 12 in the first 2:44 of the half. The lead would continue to hold in that 9-13 range until a really poor stretch of three straight Wildcat turnovers - 2 of them steals - led to three straight three balls by Columbia (Maodo Lo, Alex Rosenberg, Grant Mullins) cut the lead back to 3 with 5:45 to go. The Cats would fight back, however. Edwards found DJ Johnson all alone under the bucket for a dunk, Dean Wade hit a three and a layup, and Iwundu added in two more to stretch the lead back to 12 with 2:37 remaining. Trading some free throws back and forth put the final spread at 10, 81-71.
For how poorly the Cats shot the ball against UMES, they normalized it a bit with this game. I won't say they shot great - more streaky than anything - but they came out starting 6 of 7 from the floor and were able to continue to cultivate the lead they garnered early. Columbia threw a wrinkle into the game by switching to a 1-3-1 halfcourt trap defense midway through the first half. The new scheme caused some offensive difficulty for the Cats, which allowed Columbia to find their way back into the game. Edwards' outside shooting early in the second stanza made them switch back to man-to-man temporarily, but they would continue to mix it up throughout the second half.
Columbia is picked to finish second in the Ivy League, and they will if they play like they did tonight. Their defense is solid, they've got great size inside, almost everyone on the floor at any time is a decent shooter, and they're pretty much automatic from the free throw line.
The Cats started with the predicted Stokes/Edwards/Iwundu/Wade/Hurt lineup, and Barry Brown and DJ Johnson both had huge contributions off the bench.
The Cats had their best shooting game of the season, connecting on 50% of their attempts from the floor. Considering we only went 7 of 22 from beyond the arc, we shot nearly 61% on twos. That's a little better than Friday. A little.
Justin Edwards put up a K-State career high in scoring, with 19 points. He registered 30 in a game with Maine, but had never scored more than 15 in a game in purple. He's now eclipsed that in both regular season games this year.
Keys To The Game, #3: "If we can push the pace and get it up around 70-72 possessions, I'll like our chances..."
Well, kids, it didn't happen how I thought it might, but we had 74 possessions in the game. Hindsight, you're just not going to run and create a lot of turnovers against a team with as much experience as Columbia has. However, we got plenty of added possessions by snaring 14 offensive rebounds. And...now our adjusted tempo is at 72.0 possessions per game.
Player Of The Game: Justin Edwards
Edwards is clearly establishing himself as the defacto right-hand-man to Wes. The senior notched a career high with 19 points, and added 6 rebounds (4 ORebs), 7 assists (1 TO), and 3 steals. He had himself a ballgame. Also, similar to Wes, he simply looks more comfortable out there this year. He's fluid, he's dynamic, and he's becoming a solid all-around gamer, making others around him better.
This has to be mentioned in a separate line: Justin scored 19 points...ON SIX SHOTS. That is insane efficiency. He went 5-6 from the floor (2-3 from deep), and 7-9 from the charity stripe.
Tigger Of The Game: DJ Johnson
Note: Since HC Bruce Weber noted there are "a lot of Tiggers on this team," we're going to find that player that had an high-flying offensive play, stonewall defensive play, or a notable performance, and call them out here.
I debated the youngster Dean Wade's overall performance tonight (17pts on 7-10 shooting), but ultimately went with DJ. His dunk with 5:24 left, after Columbia had gone on a 9-0 run to cut it to 3, is the play that gets the nod here. He managed to foul out in 9 minutes of play, but man, I like his style in the paint. In those 9 minutes, he posted 6 points, 6 rebounds. In 9 minutes. DJ's a game changer when he comes onto the floor, he just needs to get a little more fine-tuned so he can stay out there longer.
Other Notable Performances
Wesley Iwundu posted 16 points on 7-14 shooting, 4 rebounds, 4 assists. Solid night from the captain.
Dean Wade, as mentioned, picked up 17 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals and an assist in 34 minutes. He must be getting into shape.
Stephen Hurt added 10 points and 6 boards, and Kamau Stokes made it all five starters in double-figures with 11 points, 4 boards and 4 assists.
The Lions standout guard Maodo Lo was kept in check, only going 3-13 from the floor for 12 points, and added 6 assists versus 5 TOs. Columbia's Luke Petrasek gave the Cats fits all night off the bench, going 7-9 for 19 points, along with 8 rebounds.
1. 3 Keys.
We defended the three well, giving up only 5-24 from beyond the arc to the Lions, or just under 21%. We also cleaned the glass, limiting Columbia to only 8 offensive boards, and out-rebounding the Lions 37-27. Finally, we got the extra possessions we needed, creating 10 more shots than Columbia got. If you can take a team out of what they usually do to win, and get more chances yourself, you're usually going to see some success.
If anyone wonders whether this team is capable of being coached, just look at the sequence surrounding Columbia going to the 1-3-1 defense. When it first came out, K-State had no idea what to do. It was obvious they hadn't worked on it much in practice the past two days, and I don't believe Columbia used that defense much in their game against Kean. Weber called a timeout after a possession, drew something up, and while they struggled with it initially, they started to at least find some level of success against the trap. With a halftime period to work on it, the Cats came out and crushed the 1-3-1, finding open shots easily enough to force them back to man defense.
There's no way that happens with this team last year.
3. Solid Rotation.
We saw what I think is a much more consistent and predictable rotation from this game: the typical five starters, with DJ, Barry Brown, Carlbe Ervin, and Austin Budke off the bench. Once Dante Williams is ready to go, I would expect Williams to fill Budke's spot. That's a decent 9-man setup that allows key players to garner consistency (four of the five starters logged more than 30 minutes), while providing some solid breather backup.
My biggest fear with a young team like this is the ability to fight back, to withstand adversity. Several times in this game, Columbia came running back at the Cats. In the second half, when the Lions buried three straight deep shots to cut the lead from 12 to 3, these guys showed they've got resolve, they've got the ability to swing back, that they're not going to just fold up, that they're not going to pout. They buckled down, jabbed right back at Columbia, and stretched the lead back out to 12 with a 9-0 run of their own.
#EMAW brings in the South Dakota Coyotes to the Octagon on Friday, November 20.