Lavender magic lives.
The Kansas State Wildcats broke out the throwback lavender-over-purple jerseys and played inspired basketball Saturday in Manhattan, holding Oklahoma State to only 18 first-half points on the way to a commanding 85-46 victory.
This one was over early. K-State (21-6, 11-3 Big 12) smothered Oklahoma State (10-17, 3-11) from the opening tip, running out to a 13-0 lead before the first media timeout. When play resumed, Mike McGuirl found Austin Trice for an uncontested dunk before the Cowboys Drew Likekele finally got his team on the board with two free throws.
That Trice was in the game to dunk one in the first four minutes is news in itself. The junior college transfer had played very little in conference games, except in mop-up time and when foul trouble dictated it. The early lead and eventual blowout victory gave Coach Bruce Weber the opportunity to find extended minutes for Trice, along with other players who have seen limited time, including Sean Neal-Williams and James Love. The minutes did not all come late, either. At one point in the first half, the lineup included starter Kamau Stokes, along with with Love, McGuirl, Neal-Williams and Trice.
The Cowboys obviously don’t match up well with K-State, as both contests between the teams eventually got to more than 30-point margins. How bad was it for Oklahoma State today? Lindy Waters fouled out with 12:21 remaining in the game. With under 10 minutes to play, and Makol Mawien the only starter on the floor for K-State in a line-up that included walk-on Pierson McAtee, the ‘Cats forced a shot clock violation. After the starters for K-State were all sitting, the back-ups extended the lead, which had been near thirty points, to 41, 85-44, just before the final buzzer. At that point, every player on the floor for the Cowboys was a walk-on.
K-State led 42-18 at the half. Stokes led the way with 11 first half points, as the ‘Cats shot 16-24 (64%) in the period, including 5-11 (45.5%) from three-point range, while the Cowboys struggled against the K-State defense and managed only 6-26 (23.1%) shooting. The ‘Pokes were 0-for-9 from outside the arc.
Stokes played very little in the second half, however, apparently nursing his toe injury after the break. It did not matter much what lineup Coach Weber put on the floor. The stars of the game were stifling defense and crisp offense, no matter what lavender jersey checked in. The unlikely scoring leader was Trice, who dropped in 12 points, including a perfect (and surprising) 6-for-6 effort at the free throw line. Xavier Sneed joined him with 12. Stokes had 11, and Neal-Willams and Brown both contributed 10. Four other players—Levi Stockard, Makol Mawien, Dean Wade and Mike McGuirl—each scored at least six to fill the stat sheet with the best balance of the season. In all, ten Wildcats scored, capped off by a lob from Neal-Willams to backup Nigel Shadd for a dunk to close K-State’s scoring.
The Wildcats made 10 of 20 three-point attempts, won the rebounding battle 36-23, and got 38 points from a bench that earlier in the week scored only two at West Virginia. K-State shot 61.5 percent from the field.
Yor Anei led Oklahoma State with 12, and Isaac Likekele added 10. For the game, the Cowboys were held to 16-51 shooting, good for only 31.4 percent.
What we Learned
- Coach Weber and the senior leaders had the team locked in. With a pivotal Big Monday match-up on the horizon and a short-handed Oklahoma State team that the Wildcats dominated in Stillwater coming in, human nature could have had the ‘Cats looking ahead. Their defense in the first eight minutes made it clear there would be no look-ahead today. Oklahoma State started 0-6 with six turnovers before Likekele hit two free throws nearly six minutes into the game. The Cowboys never got back into it, as the they could not get closer than within 13 points shy of the Wildcats the rest of the way.
- It’s a small sample, but Austin Trice showed he could still be a valuable piece for this team down the stretch. The bouncy big man solved his free throw woes, making all six attempts after coming in a 25 percent shooter on the year. What’s more, he filled lanes and was active offensively, taking shots that he can make (which is to say, dunks and down low bank shots). The West Virginia game, in which a revolving door of post players could do little more than foul super freshman Derek Culver, raised concerns about the capabilities of K-State’s big players. It also must have captured Trice’s attention. He earned playing time today, and he made the most of it. Honestly, when was the last time you thought you would ever say, “Leading scorer, Austin Trice?”
- Now, the big one. K-State has held at least a share of first place for three weeks, and will have a one-game lead over the winner of tonight’s contest between Kansas and Texas Tech in Lubbock. No matter which team wins that game, K-State will need to win in Lawrence Monday night to keep first place to itself. Today’s game was the perfect tune-up, in many respects. The ‘Cats played well, got everyone involved, and won easily. Most importantly, key players got valuable rest, as Brown logged only 26 minutes, Stokes played 18, and Wade was on the floor for only 11. Diarra’s absence will be felt, but McGuirl (six points, five rebounds, four assists) and Neal-Williams (who had 10 points and six assists today, against only one turnover) showed that they are capable of spelling the guards. Now, can they do it on the big stage? The Wildcats last won in Allen Fieldhouse, 59-55, in 2006, with Cartier Martin, Dramane Diarra and Clent Stewart carrying the day. That team’s coach, Jim Wooldridge, went on to be fired at the end of the year. With all due respect to Coach Wooly’s misfortune, the stakes this time are much, much higher.