Would Kansas State be able to cover an 18-point spread? That was the only real question when the Wildcats traveled to Lawrence to face No. 23 Kansas Tuesday night.
Let’s be clear, if the front of their jerseys had a different name on them the Jayhawks would be unranked and their record streak of weeks in the AP Top 25 poll would be already over (it was 221 last November, so someone else can do the math to figure out what it is now). But even as the team that smoked KU over the weekend collapsed in an embarrassing loss to Ole Miss, these Jayhawks were good enough to put away Kansas State 74-51 for their 200th win in the Sunflower Showdown.
Dajuan Gordon showed up with a boot and crutches, and he was sorely missed on both ends of the floor. Even against one of the least athletic KU teams in years, KSU looked completely overmatched from the jump.
As they so often do, the Wildcats started horrendously at Allen Fieldhouse. Three misses and a turnover allowed Kansas to jump out to a 9-0 lead in a little less than three minutes, and K-State didn’t get its first field goal until Mike McGuirl hit a 17-foot jumper more than four minutes into the game.
Ochai Agbaji scored 8 of his 15 points to help Kansas open up a 16-6 lead and things could have gotten much worse if the Jayhawks hadn’t decided to settle for a few contested jumpers. That allowed the Cats to stick around (sort of) for a little while longer, even though leading scorer Nijel Pack didn’t score his first points until there were less than 6 minutes to play in the first half.
One game after sinking 8 threes, the freshman point guard didn’t even attempt one until the 2:30 mark of the first half (surprise, it went in, and the rest of the team shot 1 of 7 in the first half from beyond the arc). That tells you most of what you need to know about Kansas State’s early offense, although only committing 7 turnovers in the first half felt like a win.
Mike McGuirl had some ugly misses, as usual, but he kept firing when no one else would and a few jumpers went through the net, including a three to cut the lead to 24-17. Unfortunately, Christian Braun answered immediately with a three of his own to push the lead back to double digits.
Kansas only turned the ball over twice before halftime but still struggled to find points outside of Braun, Agbaji and David McCormack, who scored 29 of the Jayhawks’ 33 in the first half. The rest of the team shot 1 for 11 from the field.
They even tried to give Kansas State a gift at the end of the first half, when Agbaji fouled McGuirl on a 3-point attempt. Sadly, he missed 2 of 3 free throws to only cut the lead to 8 points.
The Wildcats went back to turning the ball over and missing 3-pointers to start the second half, at least until Davion Bradford found Antonio Gordon inside and he hit a couple free throws. Bradford got the ball again the next possession, this time for an emphatic two-handed dunk to make it 38-29.
K-State had a chance to get a defensive rebound and crawl even closer, but instead Bradford looked helpless as McCormack grabbed the board and threw it down. Braun hit another 3 a few seconds later to erase any remaining momentum for the guys in purple.
KU figured out how easy it was to get inside the paint and its advantage kept growing until Braun hit another 3 to make it 56-32 midway through the second half. Kansas State’s offense barely cracked 30% from the field after halftime. It was hard to watch. Again.
I guess we’ll have to rely on West Virginia knocking KU out of the rankings this Saturday. The Jayhawks had four players in double figures, led by Braun and McCormack with 18.
There was some balanced scoring for K-State, with 10 points from Pack and McGuirl, 9 for Selton Miguel, 8 for Davion Bradford and 7 for Antonio Gordon, who also added 8 rebounds. Also, Joe Petrakis hit a late 3, so that was cool.
Three in the Key
- No doubt KU’s defense deserves some credit for keeping Nijel Pack in check, holding him to 10 points, 7 of which came in the final 10 minutes. Regardless of the defense, though, Pack must be more assertive with the basketball, especially when the rest of his teammates are struggling so much. He ended up attempting 10 shots, but most of those came later and he just looked a little timid at times against the Kansas pressure. Pack did start looking for his shot later in the game, so that was slightly encouraging. Hopefully this will be a good learning experience.
- 3-point woes have become a regular appearance for Kansas State, and on the plus side the Cats didn’t shoot 35 this time. They made just 5 of 21 attempts to bring their totals for the last five games to a miserable 26 of 107, or 24%. Remember when Bruce Weber said 3-point shooting would be better this season? I seem to remember a certain podcast questioned that assertion, probably because we hear it every year. Anyway...
- We’ve heard all year about how this Kansas team is struggling because they don’t have that typical, dominant inside presence. Well, it turns out you don’t need one to dominate inside the paint against Kansas State. The Jayhawks crushed the Cats inside, 38-18, as their lack of a quality frontcourt defender or rim protector continues to be a huge problem. Kansas State has just 31 blocks in 20 games, the Big 12’s worst per game average by a whole block.
Up Next: The season will continue on Saturday and because this is the Big 12, it’s another ranked opponent. No. 13 Texas Tech will visit Kansas State for a 3 p.m. tipoff.