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Not enough offense: No. 13 Arkansas 72, Kansas State 64

Dismal 3-point shooting and poor first-half defense proved too much to overcome for Kansas State in its first loss of the season.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State vs Arkansas
Kaosi Ezeagu’s two dunks were cool. I wish he had done more of them.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas State’s first game trying to score against a quality team with Power 5 athletes did not go well.

No. 13 Arkansas looked like the better team from the jump in a 72-64 loss for the Wildcats, their first of the season. The second will be coming tomorrow against No. 10 Illinois unless this team can figure a lot of things out very quickly.

Selton Miguel’s 14 points and 8 from Mike McGuirl kept K-State within shouting distance, but hardly ever within striking distance. Some combination of improved defense after halftime and questionable-at-best shot selection from the Razorbacks also helped, as they shot just 3-22 from 3. Alas, that matched KSU.

Kansas State began with a turnover on its first offensive possession, setting the tone for a game where the offense looked like it was being chased by 30-50 feral hogs. Arkansas quickly jumped out to a 12-4 lead as they got the Wildcats playing too fast, forcing bad shots and turnovers.

Mike McGuirl came off the bench and scored four quick points to start what turned out to be a solid game for him, so that was cool, but things didn’t get a whole lot better for Kansas State. The Razorbacks kept up their defensive pressure and got to the basket more or less at will while also hitting some tough shots to open up 28-11 lead.

Refs eager to blow their whistles sent Arkansas to the free throw line 17 times in the first half, good for 15 points. Fortunately, Bruce might have a team that can shoot free throws decently well for the first time in his tenure, so K-State also hit 10-of-14 to keep the deficit under 18 at halftime.

Miguel showed a bit of spurtability, reeling off a 4-0 run to cut the lead to 14 early in the second half. Markquis Nowell should have made it 12 after a steal, but he decided to take a page from McGuirl’s playbook and blow a wide open layup instead.

Nijel Pack started finding a little space with a couple nice drives and a 3-point play to make it 53-41. A nice McGuirl assist to Miguel capped off a 7-0 run before K-State let Arkansas big man Stanley Umude kill the momentum by grabbing an offensive rebound off a missed free throw and turning it into a dunk.

Things got almost interesting late when the Wildcats hit some shots to bring themselves within six on a couple of occasions. Nowell realized he could get to the rim when the offense spread the floor, and Nijel Pack came alive to get to 14 points.

Unfortunately, Chris Lykes didn’t miss any free throws, finishing 10-10 on his way to 14 points off the bench, and some decent fullcourt pressure never quite forced a turnover.

Arkansas clearly put an emphasis on improving its 3-point defense – ranked 341st in Division I coming into the game – and the Wildcats fell back to reality a bit as well by missing some wide open looks. They missed 13 in a row to start the game before Luke Kasubke finally hit one with about 12:30 left in the game.

Naturally, K-State would go on to hit two of its toughest 3-point shots, one from about 30 feet with the shot clock running down by Nowell and another by Pack on a stepback with a hand in his face to cut the lead to 6 with 54.8 seconds left. Meanwhile, Ismael Massoud missed all 5 of his threes (and all 8 shots), most of which were wide open.

The guards also deserve some credit for getting it together enough to limit Kansas State to 15 total turnovers, which is not bad against that frenetic defense. Stopping the Arkansas fast break for the most part after halftime certainly contributed to holding the Razorbacks to just 30 points on just 37% shooting from the field in the last 20 minutes.

Really, the final result isn’t so bad against a team expected to be pretty good. It’s just tough to be happy about how Kansas State achieved that result and it feels a bit like a missed opportunity.

Three in the Key

  1. Where did the shooting go? We were all hoping the rumors would come true, and Kansas State could really be a good 3-point shooting team this season thanks to some capable newcomers. It looked possible the first two games, when the ‘Cats hit 18-of-41 3-pointers for a Big 12 best 43.9%. Then Monday night happened, and now you have to wonder if this team’s early success was just due to playing against inferior athletes. Of course, it would be unfair to judge this team based solely on one game, so hopefully this one will turn out to be an anomaly.
  2. Sizzling Selton. Don’t expect Selton Miguel to improve K-State’s 3-point percentage, but he’s proven the ability to score in so many other ways. The 6-foot-4 guard continues to finish at the rim as well as anyone (excluding the inexplicable shot off the bottom of the rim late in the second half) and his athleticism makes him nearly impossible to guard off the dribble. It’s great to have another reliable creator alongside Pack on the perimeter, and if Miguel could develop a more consistent jump shot he’d be nearly unguardable.
  3. Bigs shooting blanks. We knew injuries and sickness could limit Kansas State’s post players early on. It still shouldn’t be this bad. I’m willing to give Davion Bradford a pass since he’s coming off a battle with pneumonia. His 1 point and 4 rebounds in limited minutes wasn’t nearly as disappointing as just 4 points and seven rebounds from Massoud and Kaosi Ezeagu, who had a couple nice dunks but was otherwise invisible. K-State actually found a lot more success going to a smaller lineup in the second half, so that will be something to monitor going forward. I’m not sure it’s sustainable. The big guys need to step up.