It wasn’t until Shaelyn Martin hit a jumper midway through the third frame that her team pulled away on Sunday.
Ironically, too — K-State bricked jumper after jumper in the first, even on clean, open looks that caught the Princeton defense out of place. The Wildcats finished with a 2-for-12 mark in the first quarter.
But the Wildcats found life when Martin’s shot fell through the net in the third. She threaded two free throws seconds later, junior Kaylee Page drilled a triple and a pair of free throws, senior Breanna Lewis made a foul shot, sophomore Kayla Goth hit a layup and K-State won easily over Princeton, 60-42.
It made for a 12-0 run for the Wildcats, pushing them over the hill they couldn’t seem to scale in the first half — largely because of K-State’s unforced errors. Lewis was whistled for her second foul midway through the first quarter, her team turned it over five times and Princeton out-rebounded K-State 12-8.
But the second half changed everything. Page totaled 12 points, senior guard Kindred Wesemann tallied 15 via three 3s and Lewis added 8 points and 11 rebounds. The Wildcats shot nearly 48 percent in the half to Princeton’s 18-percent effort.
“I don’t know that there was a whole lot that we talked about strategically (at halftime),” K-State head coach Jeff Mittie said of how his team turned things around. “We did run a few different things in the second half, but mainly, we just tried to grind through it and do things better.”
K-State won, of course, but he wasn’t happy — far from it, in fact.
“I think we’re pretty fortunate to be victorious today. There was not a whole lot that we did well,” Mittie said. “It seemed like everybody else saw the play except for the player with the ball. You can see everyone screaming, ‘pass it, pass it,’ and the player with the ball was locked in on something else.”
“There’s just a lot of plays that we weren’t winning,” Wesemann said of the first half. “It gets really hard to continue to give energy.”
But K-State outscored the visiting Tigers 38-17 in the second half, in large part due to the Wildcats’ vastly improved defense. Princeton recorded 23 turnovers Sunday, and the Tigers connected on just 15-of-58 — a 26-percent showing — on field goals. And things didn’t get any easier on the visitors when Bella Alaire and Taylor Brown fouled out.
“Our defense wasn’t bad,” Mittie said. “Our numbers were pretty good, with the exception of the rebounding. But I think our defense still could have been a lot better.”
But in the first half, it didn’t take long for Mittie to recognize the game for what it was — ugly. The Wildcats shot just 5-for-29 in the first half, and the way Princeton flew to rebounds frustrated Mittie even further.
And he may have been able to predict what he saw.
“I didn’t like the way we practiced yesterday,” Mittie said. “I think everybody played like they practiced yesterday.”
That was both good and bad for K-State. Page and Wesemann shone, as they did the day prior in practice, but the rest of the roster turned in outings not unlike what Mittie witnessed at Saturday’s practice.
The Wildcats improved steadily as the game wore on, but Princeton killed the momentum K-State built up right before halftime. K-State had worked its way back to even at 22-22, when the Tigers held the ball for the last possession of the half. They hoisted up a shot, which missed. Another shot, which also missed. Jackie Reyneke then pulled down another rebound and kicked it to Gabrielle Rush, who finally canned a triple.
Princeton entered halftime up 25-22.
“You felt like we had some momentum, and if we get a rebound or two, we really should go into the half up,” Mittie said.
But it wasn’t long before the Wildcats claimed the lead when the third quarter began. Page and Wesemann both canned 3s, and junior Karyla Middlebrook gave her team the lead when she finished a coast-to-coast drive with a spinning and-1.
Martin’s run-sparking jumper came minutes later, and K-State never looked back.
Mittie’s postgame comments told of an unhappy head coach, and it may be hard to blame him. But at 10-1, the Wildcats will have momentum on their side when they take on Northern Iowa on the road on Thursday.
At least, Mittie hopes so. He said his team’s flow needs to take steps forward.
“One of our leading scorers, Bre Lewis, has got to touch the basketball,” Mittie said. “She makes us better when she touches the basketball. That has to be in the half-court. But I’d like to see our guards play better in the full-court.”