Freshman phenom Ben Simmons might have just nailed why K-State dropped the game tonight. When asked how LSU was able to knock of Kentucky this evening, his response: "We played like we were supposed to be there." The Kansas State Wildcats nearly overcame a slow start, terrible outside shooting and some foul trouble, but ultimately, they couldn't close it out and dropped a second straight conference game against a talented Texas Longhorns squad, 60-57.
The Longhorns, missing big man in the middle Cameron Ridley, came out just as expected, with a healthy dose of outside shooting and dribble penetration. K-State was able to buckle down and play some pretty solid defense, however, holding the Texas shooters to below-average marks, and limited the size advantage the Longhorns enjoy inside. Some key minutes from reserves DJ Johnson, Barry Brown and Austin Budke helped spur a run by K-State to take the lead late in the half; a waning-seconds turnover by Texas, leading to a runout and reviewed buzzer beater by Carlbe Ervin II, put the Cats up 29-26 at the half.
K-State came out tough in the second half as well, and eventually stretched the lead out to 5 at its largest. With Kamau Stokes struggling from the field, and Wesley Iwundu being relatively ineffective, Justin Edwards really stepped up and took control throughout the second 20 minutes, leading the Wildcats to a 4-point lead, 48-44, with 5:58 left.
At 3:45 left, the Longhorns' Javan Felix, held relatively quite from beyond the arc, hits a dead-on three from two steps outside the arc to take a 51-50 lead, the first lead by Texas in the second half. Texas wouldn't relinquish the lead the remainder of the way, as K-State went through a couple of empty possessions when buckets would have been really nice. Even down to the final seconds, the Wildcats had a shot; down three with 17 seconds remaining, development of the play took too long, and Barry Brown was forced to take a guarded three with 6 seconds remaining, and luckily found the ball off the carom for another unsuccessful attempt at the buzzer.
K-State amassed only nine turnovers - against full-court pressure most of the evening - which is one of their better ball security performances of the season.
The Wildcats held a typically solid 3PFG team in Texas to 26.1% (6-23) from beyond the arc, furthering their #1 3PFG% defense ranking.
Offsetting that quality perimeter defense is the absolute atrociousness that is the K-State outside shooting. The Cats hit only 3-19 from beyond the arc, driving our season 3PFG% to 27.5% for the year, which is *thisclose* to worst in the nation.
Player Of The Game: Justin Edwards
After a relatively quiet first half, Justin found himself in all the right spots in the second on his way to a double-double. He compiled 13 points on 5-9 shooting (1-2 3PFG), 2-2 from the line, and added 10 rebounds and 2 assists.
Tigger Of The Game: Justin Edwards
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.
Edwards had a strong drive down the paint for a one-handed dunk in traffic in the second half, a play that, at the time, could have been key in driving the Wildcats toward the road win.
Other Notable Performances
Freshman Dean Wade nearly put up a double-double as well, coming up with 9 points on 4-10 shooting (0-3 outside), 1-2 FT, and 9 boards.
Microwave Barry Brown came in off the bench and continued his assault on the basket, scoring a team-high 15 points on 5-11 shooting (2-6 downtown), 3-4 FT, with 3 assists, 2 steals, and no turnovers.
DJ Johnson helped out with 6 points, 4 boards, a steal and 2 blocks in 24 minutes off the bench.
Wesley Iwundu was entirely pedestrian, scoring 6 of his 8 points from the charity stripe (1-7 from the floor), and a single rebound with 4 fouls.
Stinker(s) Of The Game: Kamau Stokes managed exactly four fouls and zero points on 0-6 shooting, blanked in five attempts beyond the arc. Stephen Hurt was nearly as ineffective, coming up with 2 points on 2 shots, 2 rebounds and 3 fouls in 13 minutes.
Texas' Isaiah Taylor, battling some foul trouble throughout, still put up 17 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 3 steals and a blocked shot.
1. Defense will continue to make winning a possibility...
This team has the goods to ugly a game up and keep other teams from scoring. That's something that shouldn't be going away anytime soon, and is truly the identity of this team at this point. Including this game, K-State has the #12-ranked adjusted defensive efficiency in the country, and the aforementioned best three-point defense in the land.
2. ...but confidence and mentality will limit success.
I saw something tonight that was concerning, but not entirely unexpected.
"We played like we were supposed to be here." And how the Wildcats did not play that way late.
We've discussed terms like "leader" in the past. Just because of experience, for a lack of better credentials, we saddle players like Wes and Justin with the term "leader".
Right now, we've got 16 role players. That's it.
In late game situations, who's calming the team down? Nobody.
Who's grabbing people by the jersey and getting them to execute? Nobody.
Who can take the ball and get a bucket? Nobody.
Finally, who's taking charge and playing like they're supposed to be there? Who's the guy everyone else on the team can look up to?
Tonight, the five on the floor - regardless of who it might have been - were just playing. Like it was pickup. Like there was no clock. Like there was no finality in the score at the end of 40 minutes.
Looking back at the OU/KU game from last night, you saw leaders from both team step up and take control in the overtime periods. Our guys are definitely young, and some may be able to grow into that role. Games like this can certainly aid that growth.
But for now, who's stepping up to take over late in the game for us?
Dunno. And that's a problem.
#EMAW continues their current road trip, stopping in Norman to take on the #2 team in the country, the Oklahoma Sooners, on Saturday, January 9.