Deep breath, everybody. It’s early in the season. Deep, deep breath.
Led by the trio of Joe Rosga (18 points), Ade Murkey (14 points, 6 rebounds) and Creighton transfer Ronnie Harrell, Jr. (14 points, 12 rebounds), and aided by K-State’s awful free-throw shooting and, well, shooting in general, Denver (1-1) hung around with No. 12/11 Kansas State (2-0) until the last minute before falling 64-56 in Manhattan Monday night.
Barry Brown carried K-State during a stretch when he scored 11 consecutive points. He finished with 25 to lead the ‘Cats. Dean Wade had 9 rebounds by halftime. He finished with 16 caroms and 12 points, for his sixth career double-double. Xavier Sneed, in his first game action of the regular season, started hot, with 9 of K-State’s first 16 points, faded enigmatically for a long stretch of the game, then finished with an important free throw and a dunk off of Kamau Stokes’ key steal with 17 seconds left to finally ice the game for good.
Other than that? Work to do.
Denver limited K-State to 10 fast break points, forcing Bruce’s guys to score in the half-court. The Wildcats struggled, as the half-court offense failed to generate many shots that the ‘Cats were able to knock down. The team was 11-of-29 in the first half, good for 35.5%. They did make two three-pointers in the half (one more than for the entire Kennesaw State game), but missed 11 other attempts for a 15.4% showing.
Worse that that, K-State threw away a massive edge in free throw attempts, making only 7 of 13 (53.8%), while Denver only went to the line four times in the half, making two. During a two-minute scoring drought to end the half, UD shaved K-State’s 10-point lead down to three, and went to the locker room trailing 31-28.
Whatever Coach Weber said in the locker room, it did not work. Denver settled into a 3-2 zone defense, scored the first five points after intermission, and reclaimed the lead at 33-31. After a Weber time-out, K-State began running the offense through the high post to create open looks, and they made a few more of them. The Wildcats gained a 41-38 lead at 12:51 and never trailed again, though they were unable to put the game away until Sneed’s free throw made it 61-56 with 0:23 to play.
Those who need to lead, led. Barry took over the game and willed the team to a lead when it seemed nobody else could make a bucket. Dean Wade went on a rebounding mission, yanking down 12 defensive and 4 offensive boards, three of which led to stick-backs. As a team, K-State out-rebounded Denver 40-35. The defense created 17 turnovers, which resulted in 23 points. That was, quite simply, the difference in the game.
It’s hard to tell whether the problem is shot creation or shot selection. Probably a bit of both. At times the team settles for early jumpers, when reversing the ball might create angles for entry passes and result in a cleaner look. Shots fell at a higher rate in the second half, but K-State still finished only 23-60 (38.3%) from the field overall, and 6-27 (22.2%) from outside the arc. The team will shoot better than this eventually. With the Paradise Jam coming up next, the shooting touch needs to come around soon.
Free throws. If K-State had managed even 65%, the game would have been relatively comfortable from the middle of the first half on. Instead, they connected on only 12 of 27 attempts (44.4%) to allow Denver to hang around. The disparity in free throw attempts for the game was 11 in K-State’s favor. The disparity in points from the stripe was only one.
Kamau Stokes finished with six points, but on only 1-for-8 shooting. His one 3-point make was huge late in the game. Let’s hope he starts draining more of them with regularity. He did contribute 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals against only 2 turnovers. Only his shooting touch is MIA.
Cartier Diarra has also had a hard time finding his groove. He scored two points on 1-7 shooting in 21 minutes.
So, the good news? Again, it’s early. And this team is still capable of much, much more.