K-State had early leads and kept the game within a possession through the first two media timeouts. But costly turnovers and recurrent inability to put the ball through the rim allowed No. 23 Oklahoma State (13-6, 6-6 Big 12) to gradually pull away from the Wildcats (5-17, 1-12) for a 67-60 victory over K-State.
To be fair, the Cats did not play poorly. But any good work they did—especially in the first half—was undone by abysmal shooting. Down 10-8 after an Antonio Gordon layup with 13:17 to play in the period, the Cats would miss 9 of their next 12 attempts and turn the ball over three times while Oklahoma State built a 25-14 lead. K-State would score only three points over the last 5:37 as the halftime deficit ballooned to 35-19.
The Wildcats missed all eight three-point attempts and 8-of-32 shots overall in the first half. According to ESPN stats, they only made 4-of-16 layup attempts. Some credit goes to Oklahoma State for contesting shots, of course. But making only a quarter of your shots at the rim is inexplicable.
An aggressive face-guarding effort, mostly by Mike McGuirl, held super-freshman and incessant ESPN talking point Cade Cunningham to only three first-half points. He wound up with 15 at the end, on 5-for-13 shooting, with 5 turnovers and infinity back-pats and gushes and from the broadcast crew.
With the Cats trailing 35-19 at the break, it appeared the rest of the game would be inconsequential. But, continuing a recent trend, they dug in and made a game of it.
After Oklahoma State hit two three-point buckets, bracketed around a Pack jumper, to push the score to 41-21, K-State finally got some shots to fall. Nijel Pack started the run with the Wildcats’ first three-point make of the day. Davion Bradford crossed over and made a nimble drive down the left side of the lane for a lay-up (which he made!), and Mike McGuirl connected from distance. Antonio Gordon hit a jumper from the right elbow to get the Wildcats within nine, 41-32, and force a Cowboy timeout.
After the timeout, Pack hit another three to stretch the run to 14-0 and narrow the deficit to six. The run made it to 16-0, punctuated by a sequence in which four Wildcats touched the ball, including a nifty underhanded pass to the wing by Pack that created the angle for a dump-down pass to get Ezeagu a dunk. Suddenly, it was a four-point game, at 41-37 with 14:27 to play.
But momentum is a fickle companion. Cunningham answered with a three, a turnover led to a Cowboys lay-up, and a lob-dunk re-established an 11-point Cowboy lead. The gap hovered just above double-digits most of the second half, before the Wildcats surged again in the final minutes.
With a minute to play, Pack got an unobstructed drive to the bucket and missed an open layup that would have cut the lead to 8. It typified the day for K-State: A game in which they showed they could compete but couldn’t quite make enough of the easy plays—and easy shots—to pose a true threat to win the game.
After being held to 19 first half points, the Cats poured in 41 in the second half, while allowing Oklahoma State only 32. They scored more points in the first 7:02 after intermission than they had in the entire first half. They shot 24-61 (39.3%) for the game, including 5-19 from outside the arc.
Though the broadcast crew touted the Cowboys’ defensive pressure, K-State actually had only 14 turnovers, compared to 17 for the Pokes. Unfortunately, Oklahoma State did a better job of converting easy opportunities, outscoring the Wildcats 14-7 in the fast break.
Antonio Gordon continued his emergence with a double-double, leading the team in both scoring, with 15, and rebounds, with 14. Pack scored 14 points, but only shot 5-16, including 3-7 from outside, to get there. Davion Bradford had 10, with both McGuirl and Ezeagu contributing 8.
Bryce Williams and Rondel Walker joined Cunningham in double-figures for Oklahoma State, with 10 apiece.
Three in the Key
- We have to hope that the skill catches up with the effort at some point. In three straight games, Bruce and the guys have showed renewed intensity and poise. Today they played right with the 23rd-ranked team in the country on their own floor for much of the day in every respect except one: shooting. That’s a key element of the game, of course. Perhaps most painful in watching this game film will be the realization that they did everything necessary to steal this win except make shots that they should have made. The Cats only attempted 19 three-point goals, and made five. After we’ve screamed for them to play more in the lane, they did it. But they were only 19-for-42 inside the arc, with the vast majority of those misses coming at or near the rim.
- We already mentioned Antonio Gordon, but he deserves a second bow. Not only did he earn a double-double; he also made the kind of within-himself plays that his team needs him to make. He cleaned up two misses with putbacks. He stretched the post defense by hitting shots from the high lane. And somehow he made an absurd up-and-under reverse when it appeared he had lost the ball in traffic at takeoff. As importantly, his energy seems to set a standard for the squad and just makes the whole team better.
- If we had seen this improvement sooner, perhaps the Cats would not be suffering through this 12-point losing streak. Some of the improvement surely comes from experience and added practice time. You have to hope there is more in reserve, as well, with both Montavious Murphy and DaJuan Gordon missing time with injuries. Win opportunities are few at this point, though. The Cats will host KU on Wednesday and have TCU, OU and West Virginia remaining in the regular season. Next game is the next chance to go and get one. Unlike some years, and considering the recent surge in play, that Wednesday matchup does not feel completely out of reach.