Kansas State (8-11, 1-5 Big 12) started well and led by one at halftime on the road against the Alabama Crimson Tide (12-7, 4-2 SEC) in the Big 12-SEC Challenge. But a 14-0 Tide scoring run early in the second half put the Wildcats in a 16-point hole that they almost—but couldn’t quite—crawl out of in a 77-74 loss.
With the Cats trailing 45-43 at the 15:47 mark of the second half, Kira Lewis Jr. hit a jumper to ignite a string of six straight scoring possessions for Alabama. K-State, meanwhile, committed offensive fouls on four consecutive possessions to aid the Alabama scoring binge. At the end of the run, with 12:14 remaining, the Cats were down 59-43, and it appeared a game that had been competitive from the opening tip would end in complete humiliation.
The Cats had different ideas. Xavier Sneed got K-State headed in the right direction with a three-pointer, and the Wildcats would stage an 18-3 rally over the next five minutes of play to get back within a point, at 62-61. Unfortunately, they could never hit a bucket to wrest the lead away from the Crimson Tide. A long three by Mike McGuirl raised the intrigue by making it a two-point game with :16 to play, but Alabama’s Herbert Jones hit three of four free throws in the closing seconds to offset a Makol Mawien bucket, and K-State came up three points short.
When the Wildcats led in the contest (about 15:30 of game time), they were feasting on the offensive glass. Though it is rather off-script for the Cats, they snatched 22 offensive rebounds in the game and converted them to 15 second-chance points. Overall, they out-rebounded the Tide by a 45-33 margin. Given K-State’s offensive challenges, the effort on the offensive glass could bode well for future games, if they can make it a trend.
The game was lost, unfortunately, on fouls and free throws. Two Wildcats—David Sloan and DaJuan Gordon—were saddled with foul trouble most of the game and ultimately fouled out. Sloan only managed to play 12 minutes. Gordon was a catalyst early before fouls seated him on the bench. He scored six points, all in the first half, and grabbed 8 rebounds in only 22 minutes of play. Two of their teammates finished with four fouls, as well. That resulted in a 37-19 disparity in free throw attempts, and a 27-12 differential in free throw makes. No stat wound up being more important in this game.
Five Wildcats scored in double figures, led by Cartier Diarra’s 17, which came on rather inefficient 6-for-19 shooting. Sneed scored 14, but on even less impressive 4-for-16 marksmanship. Mawein had 13 points and led the team with 12 rebounds, while Montavious Murphy scored 10. Two missed free throws after a contested dunk attempt by the freshman in the final minute of the game loomed large in the ultimate outcome.
Lewis Jr. scored 26 for Alabama on only 12 shots from the floor. Alex Reese, Jaden Shackelford and John Petty Jr. scored 11 apiece, and Jones dropped in 10.
Three (+1) in the Key
- Rebounds and free throws stood out, as already noted. But this stat may be even more mind-blowing: K-State attempted 74 shots in the game, to only 43 for Alabama. 74-43! The Wildcats made only 26 of their attempts, for a 35.1% showing. Alabama, meanwhile, made 21 of its 43, good for 48.8%. Add that efficiency to the enormous advantage at the charity stripe, and it’s surprising the Cats were able to hang in this game at all. It’s hard to take 31 more shots than the opposition in a game, and still lose.
- K-State hit 10 of 29 three-point buckets, good for a marginal-but-respectable 34.5%. A little quick math reveals that from inside the arc, the Cats were a mere 16-of-45, or 35.5%. That number does not include the times they had the ball deep, got fouled, and couldn’t finish through contact. Getting more attempts is great. Making even a couple more would have turned the outcome. Ifs and buts are of little comfort. It sounds simplistic, but the Cats have to make more shots to win.
- Close-but-not-quite has gotten tiresome. It’s not horseshoes, but if it were, K-State would be awesome. A couple of things explain the failure to win close ones. First—though it’s becoming less of an excuse as January winds down—the Cats are relying on young players who have yet to learn how to win at this level. That should come. Maybe more importantly, there is no Barry Brown Jr. to go get a tough bucket at the end of the shot clock or the end of a game. Compounding the problem today was an inability to get stops without fouling down the stretch, as the squad had a tough time staying in front of Lewis, Petty and Jones, who themselves combined to shoot more free throws (24) than K-State did as a team (19).
- Bonus observation: Though the results have been disappointing, and though they entered this game off a national embarrassment in Lawrence Tuesday night and as 10.5-point underdogs, and even though they got down big in the second half and could have mailed it in, the Cats scrapped their way back into the game and had a chance to win it. What they lack in experience and seasoned top-end talent, they are close to making up in sheer will. They also appear to be sticking together. The coaches and the team deserve credit for staying after it from tip to final buzzer every night, and for seeking solutions that may lead them to the success their efforts deserve. Tonight, Diarra did not start. He also did not appear to pout. It will take that kind of maturity to keep making progress. The team seems to be showing it, so far.