Man. It was right there. The Kansas State Wildcats (4-1) Played arguably their best game of the season considering the circumstances, and gave Roy Williams and the North Carolina Tar Heels (4-1) everything they could handle before succumbing to the #9 team in the country, 80-70 in the championship game in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. Looking at the final score does NOT give you an indication of the final of the game, as 5-6 points were given up in fouls toward the end in an effort to get the ball back.
First, apologies for the delay on the recap. Late game, work, blah blah blah.
Both teams started throwing punches right from the tip, with North Carolina taking advantage of their obvious height and athleticism advantage in the frontcourt for a couple of interior buckets, and K-State fighting right back with solid ball movement and rebounding to create some shots of their own. Through the under-16 media timeout, K-State looked super-hyped and in need of calming a bit, but managed to not let UNC get away, either.
Coming out of the first media timeout, something amazing happened - K-State started forcing their will, their thumbprint, on the game. The Cats played a guard-switching defense that kept UNC's guards out of the paint and forced jumpshots, and the interior guys in purple bodied up hard against UNC's athletic frontcourt, forcing tough interior shots and grabbing rebounds. Chipping away at the Tar Heels' 6-point lead, K-State went on a 15-3 run to the 9:29 mark to take a 17-11 lead, keyed by surprisingly an old-fashioned three-point play by Austin Budke off the bench. UNC came swinging right back, putting together a 13-2 run of their own, anchored by 7 points from Justin Jackson.
Unaware to anyone, a Kamau Stokes career night was about to happen. Kamau ran the offense superbly for most of the evening, but with Wesley Iwundu and Justin Edwards struggling at times to score on the interior, another scoring option had to come from somewhere. Kam's got great form on his jumper - it was just a matter of time before he started knocking down some shots...and he picked a great time to do it. Stokes scored 9 of K-State's final 13 points of the half, including a pair of threes. The Cats closed out the half on a 13-6 run of their own, taking an improbable 2-point lead into the locker room, 32-30. A big reason was the passing lane pressure, forcing 7 turnovers in the half, 5 of which were steals (Stokes 2, Edwards 2, Carlbe Ervin II 1).
Coming out of the break, Kam Stokes went NUTS. Stokes scored another 11 points over the first 8-1/2 minutes of the half, nailing 3 three-pointers, hitting a midrange jumper, and assisting on a 2-on-1 breakaway to find Justin Edwards for the dunk. UNC wasn't going away, though - they threw haymakers right back, keeping the score within 4 points one way or the other. Beginning at the 15:00 mark, K-State started to go on a 9-0 run to go from a 4-point UNC lead to a K-State 5-point lead, keyed by one of those Stokes threes. Of course, UNC battles right back with a 6-0 run to retake the lead. The final of Kam's six(!) threes on the night ends that run to put K-State back up 2, and the Cats put together a 15-4 run to stretch out to what started looking like the game-winning move, going up 8 with 4:22 left.
UNC came back HARD. The game finished out with what could only be described as a combination of a young K-State team wilting when the lights were brightest, and the Tar Heels just simply shifting into another gear. For the first time all night, the Cats panicked. UNC would close the game out with a 21-3 run, evaporating the 8-point K-State lead in just 120 seconds, and continuing on to finish us off by making free throws off our late-game fouling.
The Cats started with the predicted Stokes/Edwards/Iwundu/Wade/Hurt lineup, and Carlbe Ervin, Austin Budke, and DJ Johnson all had solid contributions.
50%, 8-16 3PFG.
Kam Stokes was a huge reason for the high number, but a big reason we were able to hang with one of the best teams in the country by hitting half of our shots from behind the arc.
We were able to shoot over 40% from the floor, which was a bare minimum in my mind to be competitive in this game. Given the level of competition, compared to previous games and resulting shooting, the 40% clip is not a bad effort.
K-State amassed their largest tally of steals this season, with 10 in the game. Led by Stokes and Edwards with 3 each, the Cats forced their will by getting into passing lanes and creating some easy buckets in transition.
K-State picked up 15 points on the fastbreak, which was actually two more than run-happy North Carolina managed for the game.
Player Of The Game: Kamau Stokes
Not even debatable. Stokes put up 24 points on 8-15 shooting (6-8 3PFG), 2-4 FTs, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals, in 34 minutes. Kam hit big shot after big shot in the second half, and gave the Cats hope. Unfortunately, he was also directly responsible for two turnovers in the final 4 minutes of the game, both of which led to scores by UNC as they were closing the game out.
"We were lucky, the Stokes kid, if I am not mistaken, made four threes in all the games previous to this one, and he made six today, six out of eight. One time I think we fouled him and he still made it. We were very fortunate..." - HC Roy Williams
Tigger Of The Game: Austin Budke
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.
There's a guy who's name I never figured would show up. But man, the guy played his ass off. Budke put up 3 points, 4 boards, and a steal in 13 minutes. For someone who gets put in to essentially "steal" a few minutes due to foul trouble or possibly Wade, Hurt or DJ grabbing a breather. But the undersized Budke came in against very tough matchups, and honestly held his own pretty well.
Other Notable Performances
Edwards had another decent night, scoring 10 with 7 boards, 4 assists, 3 steals.
Carlbe Ervin had 8 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals in 24 minutes. Best game of his K-State career.
Stephen Hurt - The Big Fella - put up 8 on 50% shooting with 4 boards.
Wes was keyed in on off the bat, and had a relatively forgettable night. 6 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 4 fouls in only 15 minutes due to foul trouble.
UNC posted four double-digit scorers, led by Justin Jackson's 22 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists and Brice Johnson's 10 point, 10 rebound double-double.
1. Heart. Grit. Desire.
Our guys came out hyped. Maybe feeling a little out of place. But watching them play through this game, they got to the point where they believed. They thought that they could play their game, impart their will, and belong on the same floor. It didn't finish out that way, but they hung in there and played with a team that was clearly more athletic, more talented, and one of the best teams in the country for 36 minutes.
I'm interested to see how the team reacts to the next game. Last year's team didn't have much of a problem getting up for big games, but they would play the follow-up games with a complete disinterest.
2. Another Player Steps Up
The emergence of Kam Stokes as another possible legitimate scoring option will only help continue to open things up on the floor. The more guys we have that can prove they can hit the three at a passable clip, the more defenses are going to have to stretch out and guard the arc. This will allow players like DJ Johnson, Dean Wade, Stephen Hurt, *gulp* Austin Budke, and Dante Williams (who dressed for the game, by the way) to find easier movement and matchups in the paint.
#EMAW returns home to take on the South Carolina State Bulldogs. Game is set for Sunday, November 29 with a 2:00p CST tipoff.