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Wildcats start hot, crush Dolphins 70-46

Shooting early, sharing throughout were the stories in this win.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Texas Tech
Would Antonio Gordon go off for 23 again? Well, no. But he would not need to against the Jacksonville Dolphins.
Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas State Wildcats hosted the Jacksonville Dolphins in a rare midweek matinee Monday and dominated from the start in a 70-46 Wildcat victory.

There is an old adage in basketball that shooters gain confidence by seeing the ball go through the hoop. Maybe watching Baylor pour in fourteen three-point buckets Saturday inspired K-State, because the Cats started the game 8-12 from deep in building a 19-point halftime lead. They would cool off and finish 11-32 (34.4%) from outside, but once the Cats established a double-digit lead at the 9:32 mark of the first half, they never allowed the Dolphins to get within single digits again.

In addition to outside shooting, sharing the basketball and winning the rebound battle were clear points of emphasis that the young K-State squad carried with them throughout the game.

Rebounding might not seem like such a surprise, given that the Wildcats enjoyed a size advantage inside. But their 45-22 demolition of Jacksonville on the boards was built on the efforts of shooting guard DaJuan Gordon, who corralled 12 rebounds on his way to a second double-double in the past three games, and six-foot(ish) point guard Nigel Pack, who grabbed six caroms to finish second on the team.

Perhaps more encouraging than the rebounding effort was the creativity and unselfishness that led to 23 assists on K-State’s 27 made field goals. Mike McGuirl posted a team-high seven dimes, followed by both Rudi Williams and Pack, who each tossed five while being guilty of only one turnover, each. Many of the Cats’ assists were of the drive-and-dish variety and brought easy conversions around the baseline. The two most picturesque were both to DaJuan Gordon, a lob from Pack that he collected and kissed off the backboard, and a later toss from McGuirl for the textbook oop-and-slam. Passing offense is basketball at its prettiest.

Not all was Rembrandt for K-State, though. Offsetting those 23 assists were an unsightly 19 turnovers. The sloppiness is particularly concerning, given that the Dolphins did not exactly bring pressure like the Baylor Bears did over the weekend. Many of the turnovers were careless, unforced and the result of out-of-control play. We can blame youth a little while longer, but considering their lack of offensive efficiency in general, cleaning up the possession issues is paramount to this team’s ultimate success.

After the Wildcats built a 42-23 halftime lead, the opening minutes of the second half reflected just how difficult it is to remain focused in the middle of a blowout with holiday travel plans on the brain. K-State scored only five points in the first 6:31 of the half. They still won that segment, though, as Jacksonville managed only four. Eventually shots started to fall for both teams. K-State stretched its lead to 30, at one point, before settling for the final 24-point margin.

Nigel Pack scored a career-high 16 to lead the Cats. He was joined in double figures by DaJuan Gordon (13) and McGuirl (12). Antonio Gordon, who posted a career high 23 on perfect 9-for-9 shooting Saturday, could not replicate the feat, finishing with five points on 2-7 marksmanship.

Bryce Workman was the only Dolphin to reach double figures, scoring 10.

Three in the Key

  1. Pack is back. After tantalizing us with his shooting stroke in early games, Nijel had struggled from the field in recent contests. He made his first four looks from outside today and finished 6-9, 4-6 from deep, overall. He does so many things well that scoring should be a bonus. Until all the newcomers settle in, K-State will need the jewel of its freshman class to carry a share of the scoring load, in addition to the point guard duties.
  2. K-State has depth in the post? Those words would have elicited giggles over the last several years. But after Kaosi Ezagu went down to a knee injury, Davion Bradford emerged as a skilled center with good hands and a knack for getting open to rock the rim. Though Bradford had a slow day today, managing only two points and three rebounds, Seryee Lewis made his mark on this game with six points on 3-3 shooting and five rebounds in only nine minutes of playing time. Fellow seven-footer Carlton Linguard Jr., who scored 10 on the road at Iowa State last week, also impacted the game, carding seven points and grabbing three rebounds in 12 minutes. Most encouraging: All four posts have shown competent hands, patience and footwork, and all look like basketball players, not just tall guys who play basketball because, well, they’re tall. Though K-State has chosen to play “small” of late, the development of the four big guys presents intriguing possibilities to exploit mismatches as the season progresses.
  3. Good win against a ho-hum team, you say? Hard to argue that, though the Dolphins did open the day with a 6-3 record (against, admittedly, mostly poor competition). They also came to Manhattan with transfers from both Xavier and Stanford, with Tyreese Davis, the son of former K-State player Tyrone Davis, and with Phillipsburg, Kansas native Trey Sides on the roster. None of the side stories mattered in the end, and that’s a good thing. Not that long ago, this might have been a competitive contest. After K-State lost at home to Division II Fort Hays State, it was not hard to envision the season swirling around the drain. Seeing the team recover to beat league foe Iowa State (who led West Virginia until the finish before losing a five-point decision in Morgantown Friday, in case you missed it) on the road and then to follow up a beatdown at the hands of No. 2 Baylor (an excellent team, by the way, no matter how much it pains us to admit it) by outmatching an inferior opponent and never allowing them a chance to make it a game through the final 30 minutes is—dare we say— encouraging. Start by doing the things you are expected to do. Then progress from there.

Next up:

The men are off until December 29 at 7:00, when they will host Omaha. The women will host Texas tonight, trying to erase the memory of their second-half meltdown against Iowa State to start league play, before beginning their long holiday layoff.