For the second straight outing Kansas State (8-3, 0-0 Big 12) got off to a slow start, only to post an 18-2 run to close the first half with a lead. The Wildcats would go on to post a 74-59 win over the visiting McNeese Cowboys (3-9, 0-0 Southland).
K-State got three-point makes from Ismael Massoud and Mark Smith to lead 6-2 early, but McNeese, behind aggressive extended defense that forced K-State in to turnovers and poor shot selection, would stage a 15-4 run to take a seven-point lead just past the midway mark of the first half. The Cowboys would actually extend that lead to 26-17 on a three-point bucket by Brendan Medley-Bacon with 6:42 to play. McNeese was starting—with reason—to believe.
Enter Markquis Nowell.
The Cats’ playmaking point guard took command offensively, making back-to-back layups, assisting Selton Miguel on another, and knocking down two free throws. After Miguel sank two free throws, Nowell assisted Mark Smith on a layup, and the Wildcats had reclaimed a lead, 27-26. Mike McGuirl chipped in two free throws, an assisted three to Nijel Pack and a buzzer-beating three-pointer to give K-State a comfortable 35-28 halftime margin.
Slow starts have become a troublesome theme of late. Slow starts to the second half have also been a problem. But not tonight.
Nowell scored the first five points of the second half to push the Wildcat lead to 12, and though McNeese would get the game to a 59-49 affair with 7:16 to play, K-State’s defense would shut down the next six Cowboy possessions to stretch the Cats’ advantage back out to 17 points. The gap ballooned to as many as 21 before open floor improve took over as tune wound down. Two late three-point makes by McNeese yielded the final 74-59 score.
Nowell posted his second double-double of the season, with 18 points and 10 assists. The scoring came on impressive efficiency, as he took only 8 shots from the field (5-8 overall, 1-4 from three) and made 7 of 8 free throw attempts. He finished a couple of drives with impressive high bank shots, and when the defense collapsed, he more than capably dumped the ball off or found open shooters on the wings. Not all was perfect; Nowell did turn the ball over 4 times. But we’ll forgive that lone blemish since so much else went so well.
K-State’s other guards also put in a good night. Pack was 4-8 from deep and finished with 18 points and 5 rebounds. Miguel poured in 17 on 6-9 (2-3 three-point) shooting.
The Cats overcame early sloppiness to finish with 17 assists and only 13 turnovers—a welcome improvement after giving the ball away 19 times Sunday against Nebraska.
Freshman forward Christian Shumate led McNeese with 18 points off the bench. Zach Scott was the only other Cowboy in double figures, with 11.
K-State breaks for Christmas and is scheduled to take on Morgan State at 7:00 on December 29. That game may be in doubt, however. The Bears canceled plans to play Wisconsin this evening, citing COVID-19 issues in their program. Will this junk ever go away?
After that, things get real. K-State opens Big 12 play at Oklahoma January 1.
Merry Christmas, Cat fans!