The Kansas State Wildcats (3-0) showed a fighting spirit, a few flashes of brilliance, some good free throw shooting (for a change), and more solid team contribution, as they ran the South Dakota Coyotes out of the gym 93-72 in Bramlage Coliseum.
OK - show of hands: of those who watched the whole game last night, how many thought we'd pull off a 21-point win, after being down by 3 at half, and as many as 8 in points in the first half?
Put your hand down. Stop lying.
South Dakota, from opening tip, played exactly how we thought they would. They shot a bunch of threes, drove into the paint, and played a packed-in man-to-man that encouraged K-State to shoot the three themselves.
And...unfortunately, the Cats were happy to oblige. K-State looked lethargic on the defensive end, and although we had a few token interior plays on the offensive end, we were content with going inside/out and chucking up threes. These are both problems when your opponent is making shots, and you're not. Looking ahead to Monday's tilt with Mizzou? Lack of respect? A feeling of entitlement (already)? Dunno. Here's something to file in "Wait, what?": Our rebounding and free throw shooting kept us in the game. We were able to knock down 14 of 18 from the charity stripe (77.8%), and outrebounded the Coyotes 21-16.
K-State shot out to a 5-0 lead off a pair of Stephen Hurt free throws and a Dean Wade three. Over the next several minutes, the Coyotes fought back and went on a 16-4 run, taking a seven-point lead into the under-12 media timeout in the first half. The Cats got knocked back on their heels, and struggled to find an offensive balance or defensive...anything...throughout the first half. The lead would stretch to as many as 8 in the first stanza; anytime K-State would come up with something positive on offense, South Dakota's Shy McClelland would come down the floor and immediately render it moot. Barry Brown was also key in keeping us around - hitting a couple of jumpers at the right time to not let South Dakota really get away from us. It was obvious a defensive key for the Coyotes was to bottle Wesley Iwundu up - Wes just couldn't get much going in the way of his slashing style of offense.
We've seen it already this year, and sooner or later, it's going to become unsurprising: this K-State team comes out of the locker room all coached up. Each game has seen us start the second floor with some adjustments, whether its schematic or attitude, and they show what they're really capable of. After McClelland makes another layup to start the half and stretch the lead to 5, the two teams traded three-balls, then K-State went on a 16-4 run to take the lead by 7 and take control of the game for good. The Cats played much better help-side defense in the second half, pressured the shooters on the perimeter more, and got out into the fast break for easy points, punctuated by a lovely bounce pass from Kamau Stokes to Justin Edwards for the dunk on a fast break to set the run in motion. K-State would put another 11-2 run together across less than three minutes in the back half of the second stanza to effectively seal the deal, putting the Wildcats up by 18.
The Cats started with the predicted Stokes/Edwards/Iwundu/Wade/Hurt lineup, and Barry Brown was a monster off the bench.
Well now. The freshmen can apparently shoot free throws...which is good when the game becomes a free-throw shooting contest. With K-State outsizing (and in the second half, out-executing) the Coyotes, lots of fouls were committed by South Dakota. We went to the line a staggering 45 times, hitting at an 80% clip. Three key freshmen - Dean Wade, Kam Stokes and Barry Brown - combined for 18-21. The Big Fella went 4-4. DJ Johnson had the worst FT shooting performance for K-State at 3 of 5. The 36 made free throws is the sixth-most in school history.
After putting up an entirely pedestrian 39 points on 34.4% shooting in the first half, the Cats made the scoreboard light up in the second, scoring 54 on 55.6% shooting. The 54 points in a half is the most for a K-State team in a half since the second half against Southern Utah a little over a year ago. This is also the first time in the Bruce Weber era that K-State has put up at least 80 in three straight games.
By my count, we were up in the mid-80s in number of possessions, so this game was played at a bit faster pace (even though the foul shooting made it seem slower in realtime). I really like how this team plays in higher possession games; streaky shooting can be normalized by getting up and down the floor, getting to the free throw line, and getting more attempts through offensive rebounding. Under Weber, the Cats are 14-1 when scoring 80 or more points.
Player Of The Game: Justin Edwards
Edwards had another stat-stuffer game, with 15 points on 6-15 shooting (blanked from beyond the arc at 0-4) and 3-5 from the stripe, with 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocked shots. While certainly not as efficient as his effort against Columbia, he was still a leader and force on the floor for a team-high 32 minutes on the floor.
Justin finished the break in the second half with an emphatic dunk that got the Cats rolling in the right direction, sparking the 16-4 run to reclaim the lead.
Tigger Of The Game: Barry Brown
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.
Yet again, Dean Wade almost found his way into the Tigger Of The Game spot, but this one has to go to Barry Brown. Brown came off the bench to lead the team in scoring with 18, going 5-10 from the floor (2-4 from three), 6-7 from the line, and 2 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal, with NO turnovers, in 22 minutes. Barry seems to come in and just start launching the ball, and the kid can make shots. Fire away, Barry.
"I just saw my team in a drought, and I feel like coming off the bench I have to have the energy to pick them back up. I hit some big shots and we got some momentum going." - G Barry Brown
Other Notable Performances
Dean Wade took some coaching to heart, and crashed the boards tonight. He notched another double-figure scoring night with 15, but also snared 8 boards, and contributed 2 blocks, an assist, and a steal.
Stephen Hurt - The Big Fella - compiled 15 points including connecting on his only attempt from downtown and 4 of 4 from the line, and added 5 boards. Kam Stokes only scored 5, but distributed the ball with 5 assists to one turnover.
Clearly the focal point of the South Dakota defense, Wes had a quiet night, with 7 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists to one turnover. Funny how things change from season to season - this effort was average to slightly-above over the past two seasons; this year, it's somewhat disappointing.
South Dakota's transfer guard Shy McClelland went nuts, with 20 points, 5 boards and 4 assists. Most of his damage was done in the first half, though - McClelland only managed 6 points and 1 assist in the second half.
1. Habit forming?
So, its a win - let's get that out of the way. But the final score doesn't tell the tale of the game. I'm not concerned about the fact that we had a bad half in the first half. It happens, regardless of the reason. We certainly didn't hit any of my 3 Keys. What bothers me about how this game played out is where the team goes from here: do they realize they need to do a better job of coming out of the gate strong, or do they start to build a habit of thinking they can just make up for it in the second half? We will quickly start playing teams that our effort in the second half is how we must play for a full 40 minutes to have a chance.
2. Scoring from anywhere.
This team, in my mind, has now proven that it has viable scorers throughout the rotation. Through three games, we've got six players now that have scored in double-figures, and four averaging more than 10ppg, with The Big Fella coming close at 9.7ppg. We've also got three guys - Wes, Justin and Kam - all averaging 4 assists per game. While we don't quite yet have a legitimate back-to-the-basket post scoring threat, we do have bigs that can play in the paint to a certain extent. Hurt and Wade can stretch a defense out and make bigs guard outside. There are positives to the style of offense our team is running right now, but it is predicated on making outside shots. If we make outside shots (not necessarily threes, but even the mid- to long-range jumper), it softens up the interior for dribble-penetration and gets the defense loosened for offensive rebounds and second-chance opportunities. Which brings us to...
3. Lack of a deep threat.
I look at our three-point shooting statistics so far, and it makes me cringe a little.
- UMES: 5-23 (21.7%)
- Columbia: 7-22 (31.8%)
- South Dakota: 5-16 (31.3%)
- Total: 17-61 (27.9%)
Take out Dean Wade's 5-9 for the season, that's 12-52, or 23.1%. That's horrendous. But a positive spin: it isn't purely poor shooting as much as it's a byproduct of streaky shooting on a small sample size. It forces a defense to really ask themselves, "Are we going to let Justin Edwards launch from out there? Barry Brown? Wesley Iwundu?" The guys have shown they can hit the shot, and more often then not, they see one go in, then its wet all day. So while statistics show we suck beyond the arc, defenses are forced to continue to play us honest at the perimeter, which allows us to open up the inside for dribble-penetration and rebounding opportunities.
#EMAW travels to the Sprint Center in Kansas City to take on the Missouri Tigers in the semifinals of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. Game is set for Monday, November 23 with a 6:00p CST tipoff.