You may have a vague memory of a John Cusack movie called The Ice Harvest that was set in Wichita. Your memory is vague because, first of all, it’s kind of a dreadful movie (Rotten Tomatoes audience score 43%) and, secondly, because it was released sixteen years ago, in 2005. Your memory of previous Kansas State vs. Wichita State matchups may be similarly vague, since the teams last met 18 years ago, and outcomes were not always favorable to the purple and white.
Tonight’s rekindling of the in-state rivalry that has not existed in nearly two decades started out dreadfully. But it ended in an important, maybe even memorable, 65-59 K-State victory.
The start of the game was frankly abysmal. Forced to play without the services of their leading scorer and best player, Nijel Pack, the Wildcats (5-2) were disjointed on both ends of the floor. The Shockers, meanwhile, spread the ball around and built a 12-3 lead. Makquis Nowell ended a nearly 5-minute field goal drought with a layup, but after WSU’s Morris Udeze made a layup and Kenny Pohto hit a three-pointer, the Cats found themselves down by 12 points, 17-5, with 12:19 to play in the half.
After a Luke Kasubke 3-pointer (on a nice assist from Seton Miguel) broke the lid off the rim for K-State, the Shockers (6-2) would get another trey from Chaunce Jenkins to go up 12 again, 20-8. But The Wildcats would outscore the Shockers 24-10 over the remainder of the half to take an improbable 2-point lead into the locker room.
The surge was keyed by a series of high-post handoffs by Kaosi Ezeagu, allowing Nowell, McGuirl and Miguel to turn the corner and lob it up to a rolling Ezeagu for dunks. Kasubke and Nowell mixed in a couple of three-pointers to balance the attack. K-State managed to maintain the advantage over the last 4:40 of the half with Logan Landers playing the post in place of Ezeagu and Davion Bradford, both of whom had two fouls.
The Wildcats could not maintain the momentum after the break. The Shockers scored the first six points of the second half to build a 38-34 advantage, and a Udeze bucket with 14:42 to play gave Wichita State a 7-point lead, 44-37. But through a combination of solid K-State defense and questionable WuShock shot selection, the Shocker side of the scoreboard would not change again until 7:39 remained. You read that right: Seven minutes and three seconds of scoreless basketball. (We know all about that, right K-State fans?)
K-State was slow to take advantage, however. after three empty possessions, Kasubke demonstrated a heretofore unknown skill by driving hard left and hitting a nice layup through contact. After three more empty possessions, Miguel and Nowell each made a layup to pull K-State within one, and K-State went ahead 46-44 on two free throws from Nowell and another from Ezeagu.
Wichita State would pull ahead once more, 51-50 with 3:59 to play. But K-State would not fold. In a packed arena that sounded about evenly split between the fanbases, Mike McGuirl would hit a key jumper to put K-State up, and after a huge offensive rebound by Selton Miguel, Nowell would thread the needle with a gorgeous bounce-pass to Ezeagu for a dunk.
Wichita State counter-punched with a Ricky Counsel IV three-pointer to again even the score, 54-54, with 2:04 remaining. But Nowell drained one from way, way deep above the key, and the Cats made enough free throws down the stretch to keep Wichita State at bay.’
The win is key not only because it rekindles a rivalry in a positive fashion, but because it gives the Cats their first “quality” victory of the season. Just this past Wednesday, the Shockers, who began the day ranked No. 50 in KenPom’s ratings, had defeated the Oklahoma State Cowboys by 9 in Stillwater. That K-State could beat that same team in Wichita and without the services of Nijel Pack is encouraging, indeed.
Besides Nowell, three other Wildcats scored double figures. Ezeagu had 14, and all of his five field goals (in six attempts) were two-handed dunks. Miguel scored 12, McGuirl had 10, and though he was a bucket shy of double digits, all of Kasubke’s 8 points felt absolutely enormous.
Udeze was allowed to road-grade his way to 19 points to lead the Shockers. Tyson Etienne reached 11, but shot an Ice Harvest-worthy 4 of 20 from the floor.
Three in the Key
- Player of the game: Markquis Nowell. The mighty-mite hit what was undoubtedly the biggest shot of the game, a cold-blooded, ill-advised-if-you-miss-it three-point basket that broke a tie that WSU had just forged on a three of its own with a little more than two minutes to play. Miss that shot, and momentum all swings to the Shockers. Make it, and it feels like a back-breaker to the opposition. And back-breaker it was, as the Shocks never led or tied again. Beyond that singular moment, Nowell played a team-high 35 minutes, led them with 16 points, led them with 8 rebounds, and tied McGuirl for the team lead with 4 assists. Have a night, little man.
- Key component of the game: Ball control. This is not the plodding K-State offense of yesteryear. That’s not what we mean. Tonight K-State excelled by taking care of the basketball. They committed only 7 turnovers, compared to 14 for the Shockers. They also controlled the ball off the backboards, outrebounding WSU 43-39, including an 11-6 advantage in offensive boards. Those accomplishments combined to an 8-shot advantage in field goal attempts. In a game where K-State shot 34% and WSU managed 35%, the disparity in shot attempts is as big a stat as any. And it was keyed by controlling the basketball.
- Importance of the game: We already touched on the importance of the game as renewing the rivalry on the right foot and giving the Cats a much-needed with against a team—any team—with a possible tournament pulse. Playing within 8 of two ranked teams at the Hall of Fame Classic suggested the Cats could hang with decent competition. But we just didn’t know. Now, we do know. And it’s okay...maybe a little bit risky...but okay...to start getting excited about what might be possible for this team.
K-State has another chance at a quality victory when it hosts 7-2 Marquette at 8 p.m. Wednesday.