For approximately 11 magical minutes on Friday night, we saw a glimpse of what this young team could be at its best.
Then a questionable flagrant foul call jolted Colorado out of its slumber and the vastly more experienced and more talented Buffaloes roared to life, quickly overtaking Kansas State before eventually pulling away in the second half to hand the Wildcats a 76-58 loss at Bramlage Coliseum. Senior point guard McKinley Wright IV made it clear he was the best player on the court by a wide margin, scoring an efficient 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting (2-5 from 3) and dishing out five assists.
Shaky defense once again doomed K-State as it fell to 0-2 in the Little Apple Classic. More discipline and consistency will be needed as this team continues to go through what we’ve known all along would be some pretty significant growing pains.
Mike McGuirl didn’t match his career-high 22 points in the opener, but he still turned in another decent performance with 8 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds. Antonio Gordon scored 8 points in his first start of the season but K-State’s best player was freshman point guard Nijel Pack, who scored a team-high 12 points by knocking down 4-of-6 threes.
Another newcomer, Kaosi Ezeagu sparked Kansas State’s strong, energetic start with four points, a steal and a block, all before Colorado got on the scoreboard. A 12-0 run capped off by a Rudi Williams jumper put the Cats ahead 22-9 a little past the midway point of the first half.
Then John Higgins’ crew called freshman David Bradford’s foul a Flagrant-1, and everything went south. The Buffs hit four straight free throws to begin a 14-0 run that included 7 K-State turnovers, and it was all the Wildcats could do to bounce back and take a 31-30 lead into halftime.
Colorado kept attacking the basket after halftime and K-State started settling for long jumpers, so even when back-to-back threes from McGuirl and Pack tied the game at 37 the Buffaloes looked to be in control. Wright just kept finding his way into the paint and K-State struggled to keep up, despite a pair of easy buckets near the rim for Ezeagu.
Those would be the only two-pointers the Cats scored in the second half until DaJuan Gordon’s layup with 7:29 left, and by that time it only cut Colorado’s lead to 62-50. K-State would never get within single digits again.
DaJuan Gordon led the Wildcats with 7 rebounds but he struggled offensively, scoring just 4 points and missing all 4 threes he took. Ezeagu added 8 points and Selton Miguel led K-State’s bench with 6, but that was mostly offset by his three turnovers.
Colorado finished the game shooting 49% from the field, including 55% in the second half. By contrast, Kansas State ended up below 45% after shooting just 31% after halftime.
Three in the Key
- The shooting is still there. Sure, it would be hard to be worse shooting the basketball than last year’s team, but through two games it really looks like this team is poised to make some significant improvements. Kansas State is 18-of-48 (37.5%) from 3-point range through two games, and Pack might be the team’s sharpest shooter with his quick, smooth release. Antonio Gordon also hit a pair of threes after going 0-for-3 in the opener and backup point guard Rudi Williams hit the first 3-pointer of his career. When the ball is moving and screens are creating open looks through teamwork, these guys can knock them down. Off the dribble is a bit more of an issue, but we’ll worry about that later. Don’t forget we haven’t even seen freshman wing Luke Kasubke, who is out injured until at least late December but is supposed to have a nice shooting stroke as well.
- Energy. We can assume Bruce Weber had some strong criticisms of Kansas State’s effort in the 80-70 loss to Drake on Wednesday. Whatever he said seemed to work early on as the Wildcats put strong pressure on Colorado and actually ran some crisp offense with excellent off-ball movement for a while. But that’s difficult to maintain, especially in an empty arena, and especially when you’re a young, undisciplined team without a lot of clear leadership. The most disappointing part was just how quickly the lead collapsed, but at least Kansas State recovered a bit and stayed close. A deep bench helped, yet it’s obvious guys are still learning their roles and they need to learn how to pick each other up when things aren’t going right.
- More defensive woes. Yep, we’re talking about the defense again. Wright went around his defender at will, which honestly isn’t too worrisome because there aren’t a lot of guards who can stay in front of the 6-foot senior who was a Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year finalist last season and is on pace to shatter the Buffs’ career assists record. No, the bigger problem was what happened next, when poor help defense often allowed him to either drive all the way to the basket for two points or find a teammate for a wide open shot with just one pass. K-State had no answer and then even when the Buffs missed, they scored 10 second-chance points off of 8 offensive rebounds. After giving up 42 points in the paint to Drake, K-State gave up 34 to Colorado, including 22 in the second half. Colorado’s final tally was only 76 compared to Drake’s 80, but the Buffs scored 67 in the last 29 minutes. That’s improvement, I guess, but not by much.
Next game: vs. Kansas City (formerly UMKC) Monday, November 30, at 7:00 p.m. CST.