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Cats claw back but fall to TCU 67-60

Poor shooting sinks K-State again.

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Kansas State
Another casualty of the pandemic: No new photographs. Just pretend this shows DaJuan Gordon in the lavender threads defending TCU in dark purple.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas State Wildcats fought back from double-digits twice to narrow the deficit to a single possession, but they could never pass the TCU Horned Frogs and ultimately succumbed 67-60.

The final stretch typified K-State’s frustrations. After DaJuan Gordon flew over the defense to get a put-back lay-up, cutting the score to 61-58 with 1:15 to play, K-State got a stop on the defensive end and called timeout and set up a lob inside to freshman post Davion Bradford. Everything was executed perfectly except the pass, and Bradford was unable to corral it cleanly to finish.

The Cats fouled TCU’s RJ Nembhard, who made both free throws as part of his game-leading 21 points. With the Cats down 5, Mike McGuirl got a path to the basket but missed a contested lay-up. TCU’s Kevin Easley hit two more charity tosses, and another rebound and put-back by Gordon could only get the Cats within 5 again. Time eventually ran out on the comeback.

The uphill slog was only necessary because of a slow start by K-State—both offensively and defensively—and because they did a poor job of clearing the defensive glass.

The Wildcats made a concerted effort to score inside with Bradford, and it initially worked. He scored 7 of K-State’s first 9 points. But in the gap between his second and third baskets, TCU executed a 7-0 run to make a 10-7 game into a ten-pointer, at 17-7. After Bradford’s dunk ended the run and made it 17-9, the Cats would not score again for the next 5:38 as the deficit swelled to 26-9. TCU enjoyed its largest lead, 18 points, with 7:24 to play in the first half.

Defending dribble penetration and the extra pass were problems early, and the Frogs scored repeatedly in the paint and at the rim. The game was not won from the three-point arc. But it may have been decided there. More on that, later.

K-State finally settled in defensively and hit a few shots, and DaJuan Gordon’s fading three-pointer in front of TCU’s bench at the buzzer pulled the Wildcats within 10, 36-26, going to the break.

It’s a minor miracle that the score was that close. In the half TCU made 16 of 26 shots, good for 61.5%. K-State made only 11 of 34 (32.4%), and was 1-10 from three-point range, that one make being Gordon’s improbable cast to beat the halftime horn. Shooting woes have been a theme of the season, so far. To compete, the Cats must do other things well. They stayed within reach in the first half, in part, by rebounding competitively. K-State had 7 offensive rebounds, to TCU’s 2, giving them extra opportunities and keeping the ball out of the Frogs’ hands.

Rejuvenated by Gordon’s late three, the Cats kept fighting. Nijel Pack scored 8 points in a two-minute burst to pull K-State within 5 at 39-34 with 16:27 to play. After a bucket for TCU down low, Bradford hit a lay-up and McGuirl made a three-pointer off a Pack assist, and suddenly the threatened blowout was a two-point game, with TCU up 41-39.

But K-State would get only a free throw between the 13:08 and 8:48 mark, and the Frog lead ballooned to ten again, 50-40. Twice as K-State tried to fight back, TCU’s Jaedon LeDee pulled down offensive rebounds and forced the Cats to foul him. He made five of his six free throw attempts in the game, demonstrating that small things tend to make the difference in close games.

The rebounding disparity—which had been only three at halftime, swelled to a 40-32 TCU advantage in the end.

Shooting improved for the Cats in the second half, and TCU cooled off a bit. But in the end the Wildcats still managed to make only 37% of their shots (24-65), while giving up 45% (23-51) to the Horned Frogs. A team that gets 14 more shots than the opposition should have the upper hand, but it did not turn out to be the case today. K-State was outscored 18-5 at the free throw line.

Four Wildcats scored in double figures, led by Gordon, who had 18 and who must have led coach Weber’s “play hard” chart, too, with seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. Bradford scored 14 and pulled down 9 rebounds, just missing a double-double. McGuirl scored 13, but on 5-17 shooting, and threw six assists. Pack contributed 12 points. Selton Miguel struggled, going scoreless on an 0-6 shooting day.

In addition to Nembhard’s 21, Easley scored 12, freshman Mike Miles had 11, and LeDee finished with 9 for the Frogs.

Three in the Key

  1. It seems strange to say after the Cats made it a single-possession game twice in the second half, but they lost this game early. Over five minutes of empty offensive possessions allowed TCU to build a big lead. Though K-State fought back, the pattern is all too familiar. A team chips away a deficit but ultimately can’t get over the top. Once the Horned Frogs took a lead a little over a minute into the game, the Wildcats could never take it back from them.
  2. Montavious Murphy was finally able to play some minutes. The good news is that he seems to have the bounce that he was lacking in earlier appearances, so maybe the injury is finally behind him. The bad news is that he was not able to do much besides provide energy, as his only stat for the day was a single rebound. Now that he has his game legs, let’s hope he can start working toward the form he showed at times in his freshman season. We need all the pieces to come together. And soon.
  3. Reserve a spot here in the recap for shooting, because it’s been the most consistent problem. Despite the slow start defensively in this game, it appears some of the miscommunication issues have improved. TCU averages over 72 points per game, so holding them to 67 (in a game where we were forced to foul late) is a success. K-State also committed only 9 turnovers, addressing another glaring weakness from the early season. The game was lost with the ball in the Wildcats’ hands, though, as they just couldn’t consistently get and make open shots. They hoisted 25 three-point attempts and made only seven. TCU did not shoot particularly well from outside, either, making 3 of 13 (23%). But they were efficient enough inside the arc to get and keep a lead. The Cats scored 30 points in the paint, but getting to the line only seven times (making five) while TCU shot 22 charity tosses suggests that the team still is not being assertive enough about getting the ball to the basket. We’re seeing improvement. So far, it has been just short of enough to win.

Next Up:

6:00 Tuesday at No. 13 Texas Tech