The Kansas State Wildcats found themselves on the ugly side of history against the No. 23 Kansas Jayhawks in the second edition of the 2020-2021 Sunflower Showdown Wednesday night, as they lost 59-41.
The previous low point total for K-State (5-18, 1-13 Big 12) in Bramlage Coliseum was 42, in a 2006 game against Nebraska during Jim Wooldridge’s last season as head coach. The record could have fallen by a wider margin than one, frankly. The Wildcats only scored 35 points when they were trying to win the game. The final six tallies came courtesy of three-point baskets by reserves Joe Petrakis and Carlton Linguard in the last 1:04 of white-flag game time. Those were the second and third makes for the Cats in a 3-24 shooting performance from outside.
The Wildcats are nearing another ignominious record: The current 13-game losing streak is K-State’s longest in 98 years, and would tie for the longest ever with one more loss. The coach back in 1923, for those who were wondering, was E.C. Curtis. His squad finished 5-28. This year’s team will be spared that record, if only because it will not play 33 games. Curtis did not return as coach the following season.
Shooting—the most fundamental of all basketball skills—was again the central culprit in this loss. For the first half, K-State locked down the Jayhawks (16-7, 10-5) defensively, holding them to 26 points. But the Cats only managed 17 points of their own, as they shot 8-28, including 0-12 from beyond the arc, in the period.
Early on, K-State did enough to hang around despite the dreadful scoring touch. After both teams got a dunk on their first possessions, neither team could find the bottom of the net consistently. K-State would miss eight consecutive attempts after the opening bucket to let KU grab a 10-2 lead before Antonio Gordon dropped in a jumper from the elbow to end the over six-minute drought.
It was, frankly, the kind of game K-State needed it to be: a low-scoring slugfest that kept KU within reach. At the 6:28 mark of the first half, Nijel Pack made a two-point jumper on the baseline to pull within 14-11. But K-State just could not score enough to keep it a game.
The Cats hung around early on the strength of DaJuan Gordon’s play. Coming off the bench in his first action since injuring his foot against Texas, the athletic sophomore took advantage of the excess attention KU was showing Pack by slashing to the basket off both the dribble and the pass. The sophomore wing scored 10 of his team’s 17 first half points on 5-9 shooting. The rest of the team was a collective 3-19. And, though we said it already, it bears repeating: They were 0-12 from deep.
Kansas was scarcely better in the first stanza, shooting 8-20 overall and 1-7 from three. The Jayhawks’ advantage at halftime was owed mainly to their 9-13 free throw advantage over K-State’s 1-2 effort. The Wildcats would wind up with only six free throw attempts in the game. In keeping with the theme, they would make only two of them,
Two of KU’s first half free throw attempts were awarded after Coach Bruce Weber complained about a truly awful foul call made against Mike McGuirl. Bruce did not appear to yell. Apparently, one does not point out clear mistakes to referee Doug Sirmons. The exchange wound up being irrelevant. But unless Bruce’s language was completely incongruous with his outward demeanor, the “T” appeared to be a serious overreaction.
The final score might suggest that the Cats folded and the Jayhawks pulled away from there. Not so. Pack made a bucket and a nice assist to Kaosi Ezeagu for a dunk. Antonio Gordon hit a jumper off another Pack assist, and when Pack hit another jumper for his sixth point of the night, the Wildcats had pulled within 4, at 30-26 with 14:02 to play.
But a 14-3 KU run over the next four minutes put the game out of reach for the offensively stunted Wildcats. That run was aided by four turnovers and a whole lot of missed jump shots. After KU finally got a couple of three-pointers to drop, the lead bulged to 59-35, and Coach Weber sent in the bench players.
After pouring in 10 points in the first half, DaJuan Gordon managed only two more in second. That was still good enough to lead the team. In fact, only Antonio Gordon and Nijel Pack, who each had 6, managed to score more than 3. The Wildcats finished 18-58 (31%) from the floor overall, and 3-24 (12.5%) from three. Remember: that number improved on their last two inconsequential shots.
KU hounded Pack into a tough night. Word has gotten around that teams have to stop Pack, and the Jayhawks did, holding him to 3-12 shooting and 0-7 from outside. The freshman did collect five assists (a minor miracle of its own, considering his teammates’ marksmanship), four rebounds and two steals, with three turnovers. But the Wildcats needed him to score, and he struggled against the double-teams and the longer KU players.
McGuirl was 1-11 shooting and 0-6 from outside, with 1 rebound, 2 assists and five turnovers. Not enough from the lone senior to help his team have a chance to win.
Davion Bradford and Kaosi Ezeagu both had only two field goal attempts. Both also joined Antonio Gordon with 7 rebounds each to lead the Wildcats. The Cats actually won the rebounding battle 36-35.
KU only got two players into double figures, led by Marcus Garrett, who had 14.
Three in the Key
- This year’s Kansas team is ripe to be beaten. For a stretch of the game, the Wildcats played well enough to accomplish the task, and even had a chance into the second half in spite of historically awful shooting. KU was only 25% from outside, itself, and shot 45.8% overall. They only scored 59 points. This game was gettable. Missing a rare chance to beat KU in a down year because you just can’t find a way to score 60 at home is a shame. Losing by 18 instead and setting a futility record in the process is plain sad.
- Officially, K-State only lost the turnover battle 18-16. But the Cats’ miscues were more costly, as KU won the points-off-turnovers battle 29-11. That’s been a recurring theme, too, if you’ve been keeping track this season.
- Some credit obviously goes to KU’s defense for executing a solid defensive game plan. But the 21 three-point attempts that K-State missed were mostly good, open looks. Very few seemed forced or hurried, though a few might be characterized as settling, rather than forcing the issue. The hoop seemed like a thimble, and the Cats wore out the back rim of it. Even their first make—by Luke Kasubke—was short of its intended mark but got a lucky bounce and found its way through. How can Division-1 basketball players have so much trouble making shots? Isn’t shooting the basketball on the playground what draws kids to basketball in the first place?
The Cats are at TCU on Saturday, in what would have to be considered their best opportunity to pick up a win before the regular season closes. Question is, can they score enough to make it happen?