It wasn’t always pretty. It didn’t light up the scoreboard. But the Kansas State Wildcats locked down on defense, made some clutch free throws (finally), and found a way to win at home against the visiting Oklahoma Sooners 61-53 in a game that was both further apart and closer than the final score would indicate.
In what was turned out to be a good indicator of how the night would go for both teams, K-State came out of the gate and missed it’s first two field goal attempts, both three-point attempts one each from Xavier Sneed and DaJuan Gordon, sandwiched around a missed jumper from OU’s Kristian Doolittle, before David Sloan opened the scoring with a strong drive to the basket.
The Wildcats followed that basket with a 12-4 run, with all four points for OU coming at the free throw line. OU’s first basket did not come until the 11:21 mark of the first half, nearly nine minutes into the game, when Kur Kauth scored on a dunk off a rebound. With just over six minutes left the Wildcats pushed their lead to 13 at 25-12, but just a few second later OU’s Jalen Hill keyed off a 10-3 OU run to finish the half down just six at 28-22.
The second half was eerily similar to the first half, with the Wildcats opening the half with nine-straight points before OU got on the board with a free throw at the 14:35 mark, and their first basket coming about nine seconds later. The Wildcats would push their lead out to 15 twice, at 40-25 and then 42-27, and would reach its peak at 16 with nearly six minutes to go with the Wildcats leading 49-33.
The Cats would be able to keep the Sooners at arms length until just over two minutes to play. The Sooners, down 15 at 55-40, started to press and ramp up defensive pressure. Multiple K-State turnovers and poor decisions ensued, and the Sooners went on a 13-2 run over the final two minutes to close the game to five points at 57-53. But finally Mike McGuirl did something the Wildcats had struggled to do in close games all season — he hit free throws. The junior guard knocked down five of his six free throws in the closing seconds, and grabbed a key steal on an errant OU inbounds pass, to give the Cats their final margin.
This game featured just about everything. Clanged dunk attempts, a flagrant foul (on Levi Stockard that was a legit application of the rule), haymaker 3’s, and clutch free throws. And it was still pretty ugly.
Oh, and Bruce Weber is now 8-0 versus the Sooners in Bramlage. So that’s nice.
Three in the Key
1. That may have been the Wildcats best defensive performance of the season.
Certainly OU shooting like the Wildcats didn’t help them any — 35.3% overall, and 19.1% behind the arc won’t win games in the Big 12 — but the K-State defensive pressure certainly affected those numbers. Plus, the Wildcats forced an OU season-high 19 turnovers (which led to 18 points for the Cats), and keep things clean with just 11 fouls for the entire game.
2. The change in starting lineup seems to be working.
Bruce Weber would love to have his best players starting the game, and that includes Cartier Diarra. But having the veteran guard come off the bench, with fellow vet Mike McGuirl, seems to be a winning formula right now. Those two combined for 28 points, including a season-high 16 from McGuirl (who even hit some guarded shots late in the clock), and both looked very comfortable in their roles. The starting combo of David Sloan, DeJuan Gordon, Xavier Sneed, Montavious Murphy, and Makol Mawien looks like the right combo, right now, so expect Weber to keep that going against West Virginia.
3. A win is a win.
When the season is heading off the rails the way this one has, any win is awesome, even if it looked about as ugly as that one did. But the way the rest of the conference looks, it’s possible that it won’t take many more wins for the Wildcats to avoid finishing in their preseason polling place. Crazy things can happen, and it would be just as possible for the Wildcats to complete the WVU sweep this weekend as it would to get blown out by 16 points on the road. Just don’t give up yet.