The Kansas State Wildcats (5-1)...whew, that was close. Enduring gameplay and execution that exhibited significant parallels to the Texas Southern game last year, K-State held off a challenge from the South Carolina State Bulldogs, 68-66, on an icy Star Wars Day in Bramlage Coliseum.
This was garbage basketball at its core, as both teams played sloppy basketball for the full 40 minutes. It was just one of those days where things just didn't click for K-State. While it wasn't exactly a lack of effort, it was certainly a lack of focus; a lack of sharpness. The typically stout half-court defense the guys have shown all year was straight swiss cheese, allowing many shots at the rim, giving up open threes to nearly everyone that wanted one, and attention-lapses allowed a handful of backdoor cuts or offensive rebound chances. Offensively, turnovers were the main course, giving up the ball 9 times in the first half and 17 total for the game.
The officials were equally as unprepared, as there were more shoulder-shrugging (and as they perpetuated, expletive-using) calls in this game than any previous contest this year. There were only a handful on the floor that acted like they actually wanted to be there, and none of them were wearing stripes.
SC State shot a much higher percentage of three's than they usually do - understandable, given the size deficit on the interior - and connected at a higher clip than expected, including on some questionable shots. The Bulldogs made a few circus shots, got a few calls, and kept things interesting on a day that EVERYONE should have probably just stayed home.
The Cats never really got much cooking all day. On a Wesley Iwundu drive and a layup by Dean Wade (assisted by Iwundu), K-State took a 4-0 lead right out of the gate. SC State fought right back, going on a 7-2 run to take a one-point lead with14:47 left in the first half. Both teams went hot and cold in stretches, with the Bulldogs taking advantage of a cold stretch from K-State to go on a 10-4 run to take a 5 point lead with 8:20 left, and the Cats punching right back with a 9-0 run of their own - keyed by Carlbe Ervin II off the bench - to take a 4 point lead right back. The Wildcats dominated the paint the entire half, outscoring SC State 26-10 in the lane, and tallying 8 offensive boards for 10 second chance points. K-State went into the locker room up 6, 36-30, with both teams shooting over 45% from the floor for the half.
The second half was more of the same, and was just as unwatchable. K-State tried to put something together, stretching their 6-point halftime lead out to 11 in the first five minutes of the second half, riding seven straight points from Wes and capped with a Kamau Stokes three (assisted by Iwundu). A couple of plays later, an alley-oop to Dean Wade over the back of the SC State zone from Justin Edwards put K-State up by 11 again. Suddenly, everyone looked tired. Worn out. Not sure why. The Bulldogs capitalized, going on a 12-2 run to cut the lead to 1 just before the under-8 timeout. An 8-2 run back by K-State stretched the lead back to 7 with 2:03 left, but SC State hit 2 threes down the stretch to get us flashing back to that fateful Texas Southern game last season. Believe it or not, good free throw shooting inside the last two minutes allowed us to escape with the win. SC State hit a 35-footer at the buzzer for the final 2-point spread.
K-State played a straight-up man-to-man - kind of - against SC State's isolation/cutting offense. On the other end, SC State threw everything but the kitchen sink at K-State. They played a few possessions of man-to-man, but they ran a morphing zone that sometimes set up in a 2-3, sometimes in a 1-3-1, and even a couple of plays in 3-2. To combat K-State's size inside, their 2-3 ran more like a box-and-one at times, double-teaming in the post and encouraging the kickout.
K-State posted four double-digit scorers (Edwards, Wade, Iwundu, Stephen Hurt) as well as a double-digit rebounder (Hurt). SC State countered with two 20-point scorers (Ed Stephens, Eric Eaves).
DJ Johnson was voluntarily held out of the game tonight to rest his foot. Also noteworthy - it is the coaching staff's intention to redshirt freshman center Dante Williams, but that plan is not set in concrete.
The Cats started with the predicted Stokes/Edwards/Iwundu/Wade/Hurt lineup, and Carlbe Ervin was big off the bench in the first half.
K-State scored 40 in the paint, leveraging their size to a 22-point advantage in the lane.
Tying into the paint points, K-State outscored SC State by 10, 14-4, on second chance points. Hustle on the boards and attacking the paint (when we did) was ultimately what let us grab the victory from the jaws of defeat.
It's also the number of steals amassed by SC State. Turnovers are one thing, but live-ball turnovers are killers. SC State scored 18 points in fastbreak, mainly due to those steals.
We gave up 11 offensive boards to a poor rebounding team that is much smaller than us. That's...just shameful.
Player Of The Game: Stephen Hurt
The Big Fella posted his first ever K-State double-double, with 10 points (3-5 FG, 4-5 FT) and 10 rebounds. He also chipped in 2 assists and a steal. Watching him go to the bench late in the UNC game with his scaphoid injury, it's good to seem him come back and play this solidly.
Tigger Of The Game: Carlbe Ervin
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.
Carlbe had a pedestrian second half, but coming off the bench in the first half, he grabbed 2 offensive boards, scored 7 points on 2-2 shooting and 3-4 FTs, and added an assist in 11 minutes. Ervin was a big reason K-State was able to fight back an grab a lead heading in to halftime.
Other Notable Performances
Justin led the Cats in scoring, with 18 points (6-11 FG, 0-3 3PFG, 6-6 FT), including four HUGE free throws closing the game out when SC State started fouling to extend the game at the end. He also tallied 7 rebounds and 6 assists, as well as a blocked shot.
Dean Wade battled foul trouble in the first half, playing only 7 minutes. He made the most of his full-pull in the second half, finsihgin with 12 points (6-9 FG, 0-1 3PFG), 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block. And the big over-the-zone alleyoop in the second half from Edwards.
Wesley Iwundu also had a very quiet first half, with 4 points, 2 boards, 2 assists versus 3 turnovers. Similar to Wade, Wes made the most of his second half as well, finishing with 11 points (5-8 FG, 1-1 3PFG, 0-2 FT), 2 boards, 3 assists. He was also able to make the highlight reel with a fastbreak alleyoop flush from Kam Stokes.
Kam Stokes continued putting up heat-checks from the UNC game, connecting on only 2 of 7 from beyond the arc, finishing with 8 points on 3-10 shooting overall. Stokes also added 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.
1. Its an ugly win, but its a win.
I'm not trying to overstate this: we played like CRAP, given the level of competition. But as for the upperclassmen, this is a step forward from last year, where the guys would have probably folded up like a lawn chair in the final couple minutes. Instead, it was the seniors - Justin Edwards and Stephen Hurt - stepping up and knocking down six straight from the charity stripe to finish this one out. It was a regretful, drunken one-night-stand of a game - parts looked good at times, others were downright tough to look at - but it ends up as a mark in the W column regardless.
2. Zone offense, and a lack of true outside shooting.
I hope ol' X's and O's HC Bruce Weber has some schematic magic up his sleeves, because SC State just showed how to beat K-State on any night.
Line up in a 2-3 zone that's focused on allowing the out-top three but denying anything below the free-throw line extended, and let us bomb away to our own doom.
You can beat a zone without hitting outside shots. We did it today, but only by second-chance points and the flat out reality that we were bigger than they were in the frontcourt. We start playing teams that are longer and more athletic, though, and that's not so easy. We can get into some half-court sets that will allow us to stretch and expose the back of the zone, but we need some practice on them.
3. Move on.
The only positive to take from this game is that with DJ Johnson sitting out, and SC State shooting out of their mind (all things considered), and a defense that had the resistance of a open front door, we still won. Everybody needs to buckle down and get back to business - we go on the road for our next one.
ROAD TRIP! #EMAW heads to Athens for the return of a home-and-home with the Georgia Bulldogs. Tipoff on Friday, December 4 at 6:00p CST.