It wasn’t always pretty for K-State Monday night against Tulsa.
The Wildcats did jump out to an early lead, but they coughed up few quick turnovers, and once the Hurricanes heated up from behind the arc and began to come back, K-State found a challenge on its hands.
Fortunately for the Wildcats, though, they realized a solution at halftime: maintain its dominance in the paint and close out on Tulsa’s shooters. The formula worked, and the 2-0 Wildcats ran away with an 82-62 win over the Hurricanes in Manhattan.
The two teams’ strategies on offense were often at odds: Tulsa sprayed home a gaudy seven triples in the first half, while the Wildcats outscored the Hurricanes in the paint in the first half, 36-6.
The difference, then, was that K-State continued to impose its will underneath — it finished with a 60-12 advantage in the paint — and Tulsa cooled off from outside, hitting just four threes in the second half. The fourth was an inconsequential shot from Ebony Parker in the final 30 seconds.
K-State head coach Jeff Mittie said his team’s dominance around the basket was a result of several players stuffing the area.
“We wanted to get multiple people down there tonight,” he said. “Bre (Lewis) stayed away from following the ball a lot, and that allowed Peyton (Williams) to get in there; Eternati (Willock) to get in there; Shae (Martin) got in there; Kaylee Page got in there. We have size across the board, so if they’re just going to lock up on Lew and be physical, then they’re not helping on others.
“We certainly pounded them inside. We had a size advantage from virtually every spot, from the five all the way through the one, and I thought we played through that.”
As for curtailing Tulsa’s red-hot shooting, there wasn’t much to Mittie’s plan. It came down to the basics.
“Get to the arc better,” Mittie said of his halftime message. “Be more committed to getting to the arc. Really, it isn’t any more than that. We talked a little bit about not helping on the dribble; don’t get sucked in on the dribble, let the centers take that play. But other than that, it was more of us getting to the arc better.”
The improved, cohesive effort Mittie saw in the second half extended to the scoring column. Five players finished in double figures, and junior Karyla Middlebrook finished a point shy of 10.
That includes Lewis’ 18, senior Kindred Wesemann’s 12, Willock’s 11 and 10 apiece from Martin and sophomore Kayla Goth, all players whose outings Mittie was pleased with.
He said seeing scoring outputs from a multitude of players is a step in the right direction.
“I think any time that we can show that we have balance, it makes it hard to double-team people; it makes it hard to throw an emphasis on one player,” Mittie said. “I think if we can keep trusting things, I think this team will have balance.”
By the same token, however, Mittie sensed too much of a focus on playmaking.
“I felt at times we were pressing to make plays,” he said. “I think if we’ll just trust it, I think the ball will move to the right player at the right time. On a given night, I think we have enough balance that somebody will have a big night.”
There may not have been that somebody Monday night given the balanced scoring effort, but freshman Peyton Williams built on a day both notable and impressive. The forward was tabbed the Big 12 Freshman of the Week Monday morning and recorded eight points and seven rebounds in the evening against Tulsa.
After logging a double-double in her first game last Friday, she said the buildup to her debut season at K-State has been worthwhile.
“It’s exciting to be in-season now. The hype is definitely getting me motivated consistently,” Williams said. “Feeding off energy from my teammates. They get me pumped every night. I’m more of a mellow person, but when I see them, I get so excited.”
The night was largely one to be content with for Mittie and Co., and a 41-26 lead in the rebounding category would normally have been a bonus. But Mittie won’t hold his breath. He wants to see steady, dependable rebounding from his team before he becomes a believer.
“I don’t trust them rebounding. They’re going to have to prove to me all the way through the year,” he said. “That’s a goal for us, not just to be a better rebounding team — be a good rebounding team. We could be a bad rebounding team and be better than we were a year ago. We want to be a good rebounding team.”
All things considered, K-State played a relatively clean game. The Wildcats turned it over just nine times, and their 50 percent mark from the field is a considerable improvement over last Friday’s 40 percent.
“We did not turn the ball over very much, and I was very pleased that our group really settled into the game, and really took what they gave us,” Mittie said. “We take nine turnovers every game. We would.”
He offered a few criticisms of his team’s passing, though they’re complaints he explained are fixable.
“What you’re not seeing is some of these passes are maybe not timely. What we’re seeing is that we can have better timing,” Mittie said. “The offense can have better rhythm to it. The positive, though, is we’re not turning the ball over, so we can work our way through some of those things.”
K-State will get its next shot at improving both its passing and the rest of its game when it hosts Lamar Sunday afternoon.