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Final: Oklahoma 71, K-State 69

Kansas State’s slow start and inability to clear the glass wasted the game of Mark Smith’s life Saturday night in Norman.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Nebraska
Mark Smith did everything he could for Kansas State Saturday night.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe Bruce Weber should explore the possibility of recruiting more transfers from Mizzou.

OK, this is what you’re going to get when you let me write the recap, but seriously, Mark Smith was unbelievable Saturday night in Norman. Sadly, another miserable start and just not enough defense or rebounding cost Kansas State in its Big 12 opener, a 71-69 loss to the Sooners, who were missing their best player.

Smith did absolutely everything for the Cats on the offensive end, totaling a career-high 25 points and 16 rebounds by attacking the basket and knocking down shots from outside. He got some significant help from Nijel Pack in the second half, when he scored 15 of his 17 points.

Sadly, that still couldn’t offset one of the worst offensive first halves we’ve seen K-State play, which is not a small feat. This team is already going to be fighting an uphill battle against most opponents in the loaded Big 12, so it can’t afford to give them a massive head start.

The Wildcats hadn’t played since beating McNeese State on Dec. 21 and looked a little rusty early, missing their first three field goals and committing a pair of turnovers in the first four minutes. Meanwhile, Kaosi Ezeagu gave OU’s offense a boost by fouling a 3-point shooter to let the Sooners get halfway to their 8-0 lead on one possession.

Attacking the basket finally put the Cats on the board, thanks to free throws by Smith and Davion Bradford. Smith also drilled a three while scoring nine points in the first 11 minutes to help keep OU from opening up a huge lead.

The rest of the team, though, kept struggling offensively, lowlighted by another missed dunk for Davion Bradford. At the other end. Oklahoma kept jacking up 3s and hitting one every once in a while to maintain a decent but not insurmountable lead.

When the Sooners starting knocking them down consistently – specifically, 3 out of 4 during a 10-0 run – is when things got out of hand. Kansas State’s offense looked so out of sorts that Ish Massoud ended up launching a 3-pointer from about 35 feet away with 3 seconds on the shot clock…and that was on the play following a timeout.

Fortunately, the Wildcats found some energy on defense and the Sooners made some sloppy plays during a four and a half minute scoring drought. Ish Massoud and Selton Miguel hit a couple tough jumpers in the final minute for Kansas State, cutting OU’s advantage to 33-22 at halftime.

Just in case you missed the game and I’m not making it clear how bad the Wildcats’ offense looked in the first half, let’s check in with friendly stats guru @ksu_FAN on Twitter.

Ryan Black graciously added the note that eight of K-State’s 18 misses were dunks or layups. Not ideal.

Anyway, things couldn’t possibly get worse in the second half, so after Kaosi Ezeagu missed a layup with a difficulty level way beyond his abilities, Nijel Pack actually scored five points prior to the under-16 timeout. Smith aggressively attacked the basket once again in transition to earn two points to cut the deficit to single digits, sparking another burst for the Missouri transfer.

He scored the last six points of a 9-0 run, even though an Oklahoma player literally tacked him with no whistle as he converted a driving layup. A Selton Miguel layup made it 41-37 OU before the Sooners answered with five straight points.

A 3-point contest broke out in the middle of the second half, when McGuirl, Massoud, Smith and Pack all connected from long range over a span of four minutes. Unfortunately, OU seemed to have the answer every time, preventing Kansas State from getting any closer than three points.

Nijel Pack’s three with 2:50 left would have made it a one-point game, but instead it rattled out and OU stretched the lead out to six on its next possession. That seemed to be the way the night was going for Kansas State, especially when Smith missed the front end of a one-and-one.

But this time the Cats bounced back, led by (who else?) Smith hitting a 3, and then Massoud — who scored 13 points — knocking down a tough one to tie it. Alas, Pack could not hit an admittedly open 27-foot three to put K-State ahead with 22 seconds left and the Sooners hit enough free throws to keep the Wildcats at bay.

Speaking of free throws, we once again need to give Kansas State credit for hitting 15 of 17 for the game. That raises the Wildcats’ percentage for the season to an almost unbelievable 75%.

It’s also worth noting Kansas State missed the energy of 5-7 point guard Markquis Nowell due to COVID health and safety protocols, which took a much larger toll on the Sooners. They played without two bench players, Jacob Groves and Bijan Cortes, as well as leading scorer and rebounder Tanner Groves, the Eastern Washington transfer who went for 35 points in the NCAA tournament against Kansas last season.

Three in the Key

  1. Threes finally falling. All season we’ve bemoaned the way Kansas State can knock down wide open threes against weaker opponents, but then takes poor shots and misses most of them against decent defenses. That finally changed tonight as the Wildcats hit 10-of-22, good for better than 45% from 3. I can’t really say it was because of better shot selection, so let’s give credit to guys like Smith and Massoud for hitting some difficult looks. This time clearly has the ability to shoot, so just imagine what could happen if they were a little smarter about when they decide to shoot from long range.
  2. Just grab the rebounds. Second-chance points crushed Kansas State’s opportunities to come back time and time again as the Sooners simply outhustled the Wildcats to the basketball. OU finished with 13 offensive rebounds and 18 second-chance points, something that will surely make Bruce Weber raise his hands to the sky when he watches the film.
  3. Ezeagu’s fouling tendencies. Ezeagu really has done well to turn himself into a serviceable Big 12 center at both ends when he’s on the floor. But therein lies the problem. He can’t seem to avoid picking up fouls, often very quickly. It was especially egregious Saturday night, as he committed three fouls in five minutes and then didn’t even really get a chance late, probably because Bruce understandably figured Ezeagu wasn’t going to be ready for the flow of a close, intense game. You could argue the refs were harsh if you want, but the fact is Ezeagu needs to do a better job of moving his feet and avoiding contact while defending in the post.

Kansas State’s next game is Tuesday night vs. Texas.