The Kansas State Wildcats started slowly, yielding a 7-0 lead to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels to start the game, and found themselves fighting from behind all night. Though they would tie the score three times and repeatedly close gaps in the second half, the Wildcats never managed to take a lead and fell in the end, 68-58.
UNLV made 12 of 27 attempts from beyond the arc, while K-State hit only 7 of 24. While it could be tempting to claim the Cats were victimized by the Rebels’ hot outside shooting, don’t be fooled. Three-point shooting is what they do. UNLV has made at least ten three-pointers in every game this season. In Saturday’s game, 27 of their 50 shot attempts came from deep.
Adding to the frustration, when the Rebels were not raining in corner threes to beat the shot clock, they were getting open looks on K-State’s defensive breakdowns. A sequence after halftime illustrates the point:
After leading by one at the half, 31-30, the Rebels got off to a 6-2 run out of the break, fueled by a banked-in three by Caleb Grill, and another for David Jenkins Jr. on a completely blown close-out. Coach Weber was incensed and called a time-out to re-emphasize the point that shooters must be covered. After returning to live action, however, another three-pointer by Jenkins stretched the deficit to 40-32.
K-State hung around and looked to have a chance to grab the lead late. But Antonio Gordon missed a reverse lay-up attempt off a feed from Nijel Pack that would have cut the deficit to one with 5:19 to play. A little more than two minutes later, the Cats found themselves down eleven, 64-53, after Jenkins hit his seventh three-point bucket of the night.
Defensive shortcomings aside, the Wildcats were also unable to connect on any shots for long stretches of the game. The most costly drought occurred from 5:55, after Mike McGuirl hit two free throws to get within 56-53, until the 2:41 mark. UNLV outscored the ‘Cats 8-0 during that run to all but ice the game. They pushed their lead to 13 before a meaningless McGuirl three with six seconds remaining determined the final margin.
In the first half, the Cats had no answer for UNLV swingman Bryce Hamilton. The lefty showed a smooth stroke, creating space with the step-back and knocking down several shots under pressure. He had 16 points at halftime on 6 of 8 shooting, including 2 of 3 from outside the arc. In the second half, Jenkins did most of the damage, knocking down five of his seven three-point buckets and scoring 17 of his game-high 25 points
K-State worked hard and outrebounded the Rebels in the first half, 19-10. But shot selection and finishing in close were both problems, as the Wildcats made only 11 of 30 field goal attempts, including 3 of 10 from three-point range. By the end of the game, K-State led the rebounding margin by only two, 32-30, diminishing one advantage that had kept the Cats within striking distance, even though the teams’ respective shooting percentages were woefully uneven, with K-State hitting only 36.7%, while UNLV made 50% of its attempts.
For the game, K-State shot 22-61 from the floor, good for a paltry 36.1%, while the Rebles actually improved after halftime, finishing at 26-50 (52%).
McGuirl led the Cats with 17. Nijel Pack and DaJuan Gordon each scored 9.
Hamilton scored only two points in the second half, finishing with 18 points to complement the 25 from Jenkins. Grill also made it to double figures, dumping in 12. Only six Rebels scored in the game.
K-State sophomore Montavious Murphy did not play in the contest.
According to the broadcasters, K-State has added a game against Fort Hays State, which will be played Tuesday.
Three in the Key
- Growing pains. Get used to them. Getting down early was less than ideal. Fighting back was encouraging. But forced shots, failure to finish close to the basket, and failure to close out on shooters kept the Cats from ever surging ahead in the game. Then, as the second half wore on, the energy they had shown to get back into the game flagged. Suddenly UNLV was the team getting second looks, and they made K-State pay.
- Let’s look for some promising signs. Seven-foot freshman Davion Bradford showed good footwork and offensive awareness to finish a couple of plays in close and scored five points in the first half. Rudi Williams scored 7 points and grabbed 5 rebounds off the bench from his guard position. Though Antonio Gordon suffered through a rough (2-9) shooting night, he kept up the energy and pulled down 9 rebounds in 29 minutes of playing time. Nijel Pack had an uncharacteristically off shooting night (4-11, 1-4 from three), but he did throw a career-high 7 assists. That’s as much sunshine as we can pump on this one, unfortunately.
- As Eric pointed out in his piece earlier this week, K-State over the past few years has depended heavily upon defensive pressure and creating live-ball turnovers that can be converted to easy points. Though the Cats won the turnover battled tonight 16-12, only four of the turnovers they “forced” were steals. Meanwhile, 7 of the 12 turnovers UNLV coaxed out of K-State were direct takeaways, leading to an 11-2 advantage for the visitors in fast-break points. Until the offense finds its groove, K-State must find a way to create more runouts. 58 points just is not going to be enough to win on very many nights.