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Wildcats hold off rally to beat Milwaukee 76-75

The newcomers carried the Cats most of the night; McGuirl made clutch plays late.

NCAA Basketball: West Virginia at Kansas State
Coach Bruce Weber never looks relaxed. With this young team, he may never sit down.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas State Wildcats looked to have victory secured after freshman center Davion Bradford made both ends of a 1-and-1 to give them a 75-69 lead with 44 seconds remaining against the Milwaukee Panthers. But K-State would miss its last four free throws, including the front end of two 1-and-1 opportunities, to make the outcome uncertain before Mike McGuirl intercepted a long inbounds pass with 1.6 seconds remaining to seal the 76-75 Wildcat victory.

K-State started the game with three freshmen—Nijel Pack, Davion Bradford and Selton Miguel—on the floor. It was the first time three freshmen started for the Cats since 2007, when Michael Beasley, Jacob Pullen and Bill Walker all started together. The freshmen, along with newcomer Rudi Williams, played key roles in delivering the Wildcats’ second victory of the 2020-2021 season.

After Milwaukee ran out to a 7-0 lead, Miguel got K-State right back into the game, scoring 5 of the Cats’ first seven points to pull them even. The other freshmen got involved from there, as Bradford scored on a patient move for a lay-up, and Pack hit a short jumper to cap off a 14-0 run to put the Cats ahead by 7. Bradford would score 8 more in the half, and Miguel would go to the break with twelve points on 5-11, 1-5 shooting.

In the second half, Williams joined the fun in a big way. The JuCo transfer found the left corner to his liking, knocking down 4 of his 5 three-point attempts on the way to a 16-point performance. In all, five Wildcats scored in double figures, led by Bradford’s 18. Miguel finished with 17 on 7-14 shooting (2-7 from three). His most emphatic score was his last, a baseline cut and thunderous dunk off a feed from Mike McGuirl, who led the team with 8 assists. Mike also scored 11 points, including a clutch midrange jumper to extend the lead to 68-64 with 3:18 to play. Pack found his shooting range from deep, knocking down 2 of 3 three-point attempts and scoring 12 points.

K-State shot 54.7 percent (29-53) from the floor and 45.4 percent (10-22) from outside, while the Panthers made 22-53 (41.5%)shots overall and 10-23 (43.5%) from three. Yet the Wildcats still nearly lost the game. Why? A thirteen-point disparity from the free throw line, where Milwaukee went 21-28, while K-State was an unsightly 8-18, explains it. Blame youth. Blame nerves. But it has to get better as these young Cats learn to win.

The Wildcats got 63 of their 76 points from newcomers, with 47 of those coming from freshmen. Miguel and Bradford, in particular, showcased abilities fans had not previously seen from the touted recruits on a night in which sophomores Antonio Gordon and DaJuan Gordon were both limited by foul trouble and could not find a rhythm, and Montavious Murphy was again unavailable with a knee injury. Kaosi Ezeagu also missed the game, after undergoing what was described as a “minor” knee procedure earlier in the week.

Milwaukee had four double-figure scorers, led by DeAndre Gholston, who had 15 on 5-17 marksmanship, and Grant Coleman, who dropped in 14 on only six shots from the field.

Three in the Key

1. Win pretty. Win ugly. Just win. K-State got off to a slow start but never panicked and chipped away before commanding the game though much of the first half. Utilizing the inside presence of 7-footer Davion Bradford made offense look easier than it has in a long time. With Milwaukee playing tight on perimeter players, the Cats used screens and drives, and Bradford was in position for easy pitches and dunks when his man went to help. The big freshman is an intriguing talent. Seldom does a school like K-State get a freshman big whose build is so nearly ready for the rigors of Power-5 conference play. Bradford will develop, and tonight was a big early step for him. With experience, he could become a weapon inside like K-State has not had since Jordan Henriquez.

2. Free throw shooting was not the only flaw. The bigger Wildcats got outrebounded 34-30 and gave up 14 second-chance points. Bradford had 7 boards to lead the way, but it’s probably indicative of a problem that the second-leading rebounder was point guard Nijel Pack. Teams with a narrow margin for error have to do the little, effort-based things well. Rebounding must improve.

3. Get ready for early Big 12 play. Next on the schedule is a visit to Iowa State Tuesday night. The Cyclones were picked just ahead of the Wildcats at the bottom of the Big 12 in preseason polls. It’s a game the Cats must compete in, or the rest of the conference slate could look incredibly daunting. After that, national No. 2 Baylor comes calling on Saturday, December 19. What has already been hard is about to get much, much tougher.