From hope to mope.
Kansas State, after a ragged start Saturday allowed Texas A&M to build a 14-7 lead at the midpoint of the first half, gathered itself to get within one at halftime and to lead with less than two minutes to play. But the Wildcats (5-13, 1-7 Big 12) melted against increased defensive pressure late and fell to the Aggies (8-7, 2-6 SEC) by a 68-61 final count.
Two K-State headlines from this game: First, point guard Nijel Pack almost single-handedly kept K-State in the game and gave them a chance to win. The freshman phenom showed why he was a highly sought recruit, scoring a career-high 26 points on 9-16 shooting, including 8-14 from three-point range. After the Wildcats shot a collectively awful 2-17 from deep in the first half, Pack found the range on 7-of-9 in the second stanza. That his performance was ultimately wasted is a terrible shame.
Also a terrible shame is the second headline: Sophomore wing DaJuan Gordon got tangled up with Davion Bradford in a loose-ball situation in the first half, landed awkwardly, and could not put any weight on his left leg as he was helped off the floor. We can only guess at the nature and severity of the injury, but it looked bad. Bruce Weber says they will be getting X-rays and hoping not to find a fracture.
The usual bugaboos were enough to doom the Cats. Early, poor shooting put them behind the Aggies, as K-State made only 3-11 shot attempts, including 0-6 from three-point range, in the first 10 minutes of action. The 2-for-17 three-point shooting mark for the half, bad as it was, was aided by a Mike McGuirl three to close out the period.
The other deficiency, particularly late in the game, was ball security. Though the Wildcats only turned the ball over five times in the first half and 11 times in the game, a giveaway near the top of the key on an inbounds play with 1:25 remaining in the contest allowed the Aggies to break the 58-all tie on free throws. The visitors won the game at the line, connecting on 22 of 26 attempts, compared to a paltry 5-9 from K-State.
For the game, K-State was 10-35 from deep. Thirty-five is way too many attempts, of course. Taking out Pack’s 8 makes on 14 tries, the rest of the team was 2-for-21, with McGuirl (2-7) being the only other Wildcat to make any, and Rudi Williams posting an 0-for-5.
Pack’s 26 led all scorers. McGuirl was the only other Wildcat to post double figures, with 10. Davion Bradford made all his field goal attempts and 3 of 4 free throws to finish with nine points.
Four Aggies reached double digits, led by Jay Jay Chandler and Savion Flagg, who posted 14 points apiece.
Three in the Key
- Nijel Pack was the best player in the game, at least in the second half. He not only knocked down open shots, but also chased down and thwarted Aggie fast-break opportunities and dropped down on a double-team to steal the ball from A&M forward Emmanuel Miller to keep sure points off the board. For the game, Pack had three steals, five assists and three rebounds to go with all his points. He wasn’t perfect, also committing three turnovers. But he tried to do everything for his team. It was almost enough.
- Shooting has been a horrible problem for this team all year, and though K-State actually outshot the Aggies (41.1% to 40.8%), the team has not done enough to capitalize on its strengths inside. Bombing 35 attempts from deep: Not a winning formula. Hasn’t been all year. Wasn’t again today. There were opportunities, especially early in the game, to attack after breaking the soft pressure. Texas A&M was trying to force the ball along the sidelines and trap when it crossed halfcourt. K-State handled this decently and centered the ball several times, but then held it and allowed the defense to recover, rather than exploiting the numbers advantage gained by having two defenders out of position far above the lane. The offense has bogged down in part because it lacks consistent shooters. But a bigger problem may be a lack of aggressiveness and willingness to settle, rather than being more assertive in attacking the lane. When they moved the ball and drove gaps, the Cats got good, easy looks. When they stood and lobbed it along the perimeter, as they are too often prone to do, they wound up forcing late shots that they did not want and could not make.
- Was this the last, best opportunity to win another game this year? Statistically, it was. If we get another win, it will be a fairly decent upset. If Pack can get some teammates to come along with him, though, maybe the season won’t end on a 17-game losing streak.
Time to travel downriver to meet a Kansas squad that is struggling compared to its usual expectations. Still, it would take a monumental effort for these Wildcats to end the streak there. Game is Tuesday at 8:00 and will be displayed to the world on ESPN2.