Well, that's one way to get your first conference win of the season. The Kansas State Wildcats took an early lead and really poured on the gas throughout the first half, then weathered a couple of second-half runs from the Texas Tech Red Raiders before closing it out, 83-70.
Texas Tech's sharpshooter Toddrick Gotcher hit a quick three, but it was all K-State in the first half after that. A couple of quick steals by Stephen Hurt led to runouts by Wesley Iwundu and Kamau Stokes put the Cats up 6-3 early, and would take an 8-6 advantage to the first media timeout. After a couple of free throws from Tech's Zach Smith, something happened we haven't seen in a while:
The Wildcats started hitting shots.
Using decisive offensive execution and ball movement, the Cats started finding open shot after open shot, and were connecting. It started with a Justin Edwards three at 15:01, and would end with EIGHT made threes in the half: four by Kamau Stokes, three by Barry Brown off the bench, and the Edwards three that started it all.
Aggressive offensive rebounding by Tech (or poor boxing out - your choice) kept the Red Raiders close to the under-12 timeout. Coming out of that break, K-State went absolutely en fuego, riding 8-9 shooting to a 22-5 run and open up a 17-point lead with 4:34 left. A handful of Wildcat free throws, and some late effort by Justin Gray sends the teams into the locker room with K-State up 47-31.
Atypical to previous K-State performances, it was the opponent with all the momentum to start the second half. The Raiders were able to take advantage of an obvious change in officiating consistency, and ramped up their effort to get to the line 7 times (making all 7) by the under-16 timeout. A couple of point-blank chip shots kept K-State out in front, but the 16-point halftime lead was cut to 9. More of the same over the next several minutes - including threes by Justin Gray and Aaron Ross - brought a timeout from Bruce Weber and the lead whittled to 5. After scoring 47 in the first half, K-State put up only 10, and were outscored 21-10 in the first 9 minutes of the second.
After a brief attitude readjustment, the Wildcats turned the screws on the Raiders. Four straight turnovers by Tech turned into a DJ Johnson layup, a Dean Wade three, and two steals by Justin Edwards turned into a coast-to-coast dunk and, finally, the 11-2 run was capped by a Barry Brown reverse two-handed flush that got the home crowd on their feet and Tubby Smith to call a timeout of their own, down 16 with 7:27 to go.
Out of the timeout, Tech's Justin Gray kept up his great play with a couple more threes, Tech's scoring leader Devaugntah Williams finally got his first points of the game, and some K-State misses brought the Red Raiders back to within 12, but they never seriously contested the remainder of the way. Wes would score a nifty reverse layup on a high isolation drive, pick up an easy tip-in on an offensive board, and finish the game off with a two-handed dunk to send the K-State faithful home happy.
K-State held Texas Tech's leading scorer and senior leader Devaugntah Williams scoreless until the 6:17 mark of the second half. Williams would finish with 8 points, 3 boards, 3 assists and 2 steals.
The Wildcats connected on 56.4% of their shots tonight (31-55), including a 10-19 effort from behind the arc for 52.6% from three; both season highs.
K-State freshmen combined for 42 of 83 points: Kamau Stokes (17), Barry Brown (15), Dean Wade (10). The three combined for 52% (14-27) from the floor, 56% (9-16) from three, 11 boards, 5 assists and 3 steals. These three also had the highest minutes on the team.
Looking at rosters and previous performances, you would suspect Texas Tech would have the advantage in the paint. But, you'd be wrong. K-State outscored the Red Raiders in paint points by 12, 40-28.
Player Of The Game: Kamau Stokes
Kam played probably the most solid game of any of the solid efforts tonight, leading the team in scoring with 17 on 6 of 8 shooting (4-5 from beyond the arc, 1-2 from the line), and added 2 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal to only one turnover and one foul. Kam might not be the most flashy point guard out there, but he's a solid defender, a passable shooter, takes care of the ball, and has the ability to calm everyone down.
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.
The reverse to cap the 11-2 run in the second half, stamping the official K-State Seal of Approval on the game, earns Microwave the Tigger award (h/t to @OctagonOfDoom for Vine)
Barry finished with 15 points on 5-12 shooting (3-7 from three, 2-3 from the line), snared 4 boards, dished out two dimes, and added a steal to the scorebook.
Other Notable Performances
Wesley Iwundu came out strong early, and finished with a flurry as well. Wes tallied 17 points on 8-11 shooting (1-1 FT), grabbed 6 boards and added 4 assists as well.
Justin Edwards came and went in spurts offensively, but was solid on the defensive end the entire night. He came up with 11 points on 5-11 shooting (1-2 3P, 0-1 FT), snared a team-high 8 boards, dished out 4 assists, and came up with 3 steals, including two straight possessions during that 11-2 run in the second half.
Dean Wade finally hit a three - two, in fact - on his way to 10 points and 6 boards.
DJ Johnson provided an interior spark off the bench, logging 21 minutes and putting up 7 points and 6 rebounds. His 3-of-4 effort from the free throw line is above his season average of 51% from the line.
Former K-State recruit Justin Gray had himself a game, and frankly, was the reason this game was even close. Gray hasn't hit more than two three-pointers in a game in his career, but he connected on 5 of 7 tonight on his way to a career-high 23 points. Tech's best player, Devaugntah Williams, was held scoreless for much of the game, bud did finish with 8 points, 4 boards, and 3 assists.
1. Crazy what executing the offense can do.
Refer to Key #2 in the game preview. Run the offense like you mean it, work to find open shots, and open shots will fall. When Tech was making runs at us, it was usually because our offensive set was breaking down.
2. I'm not liking the rebounding trend.
On defense, I should say.
Tech regularly had all five guys crashing the offensive glass, and there wasn't a thing we were doing to stop them. They rode that to 10 offensive boards in the first half alone - 18 for the game - and scored 20 points off those rebounds.
It wouldn't be an issue if it wasn't becoming an issue. We've given up more than 10 offensive rebounds in every single conference game so far, and the teams in the Big 12 are good enough, we don't need to be spotting our opponents that many extra possessions. With us playing either matchup zone or man-to-man, we're in position to fundamentally box out and go get the ball. We're just being lazy.
3. Build momentum.
Nationally-ranked Iowa State comes into town on Saturday, but they're reeling from an OT loss to Texas, and are 1-3 in the conference now as well. If we can come out and make some shots like we did tonight, I like our chances. But it will require that deliberate execution of the offense we saw during most of the game; just relying on luck or lapses in the Cyclone defense isn't going to get it done.
#EMAW stays home this weekend, taking on the (17/18) Iowa State Cyclones, on Saturday, January 16 (300p CST).