In their best effort since the New Year, the Kansas State Wildcats pushed No. 13 Texas Tech until the last two minutes at Bramlage Coliseum Saturday before falling 73-62.
K-State (5-15, 1-10 Big 12) turned up defensive pressure, contested shots and fought the Red Raiders (14-5, 6-4) from start to finish. It was almost enough. The Cats hung around in striking distance, and the game was tied at 32 early in the second half before Tech went on a 12-1 run to gain its first double-digit lead at 44-33. The Wildcats would not fold, though.
A couple of buckets by Kaosi Ezagu and one each by Nigel Pack and Luke Kasubke, followed by a Mike McGuirl three, drew the Wildcats within six, at 58-52 with 2:46 to play. After a frenzy of scoring at both ends of the floor, a jumper by Pack made it 63-57 Texas Tech with only 2:24 to go. But defensive breakdowns yielded two late dunks to the Red Raiders, and K-State could never quite pull even.
In what was a close contest for much of the day, a couple of plays loomed large. Twice on the day—including once late in the second half, Nijel Pack put up driving floaters that went in but were negated by offensive foul calls. On the defensive end, McGuirl was giving ground on Tech’s Kyler Edwards and (somehow) wound up on his back while Edwards ran to the corner and hit a wide open three-point jumper.
Three-pointers were a big part of the story, particularly in the second half. Tech’s Kevin McCullar, a 22.2% shooter, made 3-of-4. Edwards, a 36.8% shooter, also made 3-of-4. It seemed as if every one of the makes came at just the right time to kill K-State’s momentum. After a cold start shooting, Tech made 10 of 20 three-point attempts and actually shot better from outside the arc than inside it, where K-State held them to 14 for 37 (37.8%) shooting.
K-State also shot 20 three-point attempts—a much more reasonable number than they had attempted in recent games—and made nine of them. The teams also shot the same number of free throws, 22 apiece, and K-State won the rebounding battle 32-28.
Unfortunately, the recurrent flaw of costly turnovers did the Wildcats in. Pack (including the two charge calls) was ticketed with six giveaways. As a team, K-State turned it over 18 times, while only forcing 10 Tech turnovers. That led to a 51-44 disparity in shot attempts that was—perhaps aside from some crushing misfortune with the whistles and some timely buckets by Tech—the largest factor in coming up short.
Several Wildcats put in impressive efforts, perhaps headlined by Antonio Gordon, who along with McGuirl played all 40 minutes, had nine rebounds and two blocks and helped Kaosi Ezagu and Davion Bradford to make it difficult for Tech to get the ball on the rim deep in the lane. Pack tied McGuirl for team-high with 16 points, and did it while only taking seven shots, including a 4-5 effort from three-point range. But for the two wave-offs, he would have hit 20. Pack was also second on the team with 7 rebounds.
McGuirl’s 16 points came on 5-15 shooting, including 4-11 from outside. He also had five assists and two steals, against three turnovers. Ezeagu also finished in double figures, with 10.
Mac McLung led Texas Tech with 23 points on 8-17 shooting, including 1-6 from outside.
Three in the Key
- We’ve already groused about the turnovers, so let’s talk about another recurring problem: Shot distribution. Only one Wildcat took more than ten shots today. Mike McGuirl. Pack was next, with 7, and Ezeagu made 6 attempts. Not only is seven attempts criminally insufficient for Pack, but 15 is just too many for McGuirl. Often the culprit is a stagnant offense that ends with Mike—the lone senior on the squad—trying to create something on the fly. It rarely works, in part because Mike is most effective as a spot-up shooter. Feet set? He’s pretty good. Off the dribble and fading? Less so. Because teams key on Pack (and why wouldn’t they?) getting him shots is a challenge. But to maximize its chances of winning, this team must find a way to redistribute some of the outside shot attempts from other players to Nijel.
- It was good to see some fire, even though the Cats came up short. The defensive intensity might have been the best of the year. Maybe it's a matchup issue, but the two 11-point losses to Tech both felt closer that that margin, and they were the closest margins for K-State since a 67-60 loss ignited what is now a 10-game losing streak. It’s strange that the Cats would match up that well against the country’s 13th-best team.
- Will K-State win again this year? Hard to see it, though continued effort like today’s would give them a chance. Remaining games on the schedule: No. 6 Texas, Oklahoma State (who beat Texas in double-OT today), Kansas (who will likely be unranked for the first time in eons after losing at West Virginia today), TCU, No. 9 OU, and No. 17 West Virginia. What a rotten league in which to suffer through a rebuild. So far, the Iowa State game that was lost to COVID has not be rescheduled. It may not, since it bears no impact on the league championship. With K-State’s upcoming murderer’s row (plus TCU) the best chance for a win may come at the Big 12 Tournament, where if nothing changes, the 1-and-whatever Wildcats would actually be seeded ahead of the Cyclones.