As Kansas State came out of the final media timeout with a one-point lead, most fans were probably wondering the same thing.
How is this going to go wrong?
Then the Cats went out and made us all look very silly.
Somehow they increased their intensity on defense and Mark Smith led the charge offensively down the stretch as K-State finished on a 12-2 run for a much-needed 62-51 win over No. 19 Texas Tech. The Mizzou transfer hit a pair of threes to finish with 12 points and Ish Massoud delivered the exclamation point with a two-handed slam (hardly a guaranteed 2 points for K-State this season) to bury a Red Raiders team that had beaten Oklahoma State, Baylor and Kansas in the last eight days.
Markquis Nowell continued to show his uncanny ability to take the ball away from you if you show it to him for an instant, and Tech turned the ball over five times in the last 3:08. It was only fitting that Nowell hit the final two free throws to get to 7 points to go with his 9 assists, even though it was far from his best shooting night.
Nijel Pack put up another 14 points to lead Kansas State, which picked up its first Big 12 win this season and third win over a top 20 team in the last three seasons, with one each year. These Wildcats got it earlier than the previous two teams, and they’ll get plenty of chances for more.
So will this win carry over and start a hot streak like the glorious rout of No. 4 Oklahoma in 2018, when K-State’s season ended with an Elite 8 run? Or will it be more like the the surprising rout of West Virginia in 2020, a lone bright spot in a sea of sadness? Time will tell.
The Wildcats did their best to quash the narrative that they can’t start strong with Bruce Weber on the bench, very slowly building an 11-3 lead. Mike McGuirl even came back strong in his first game since sitting out due to Covid, knocking down a pullup jumper for the first of his 10 points off the bench.
Defensively, KSU was tremendous, holding Tech to one field goal in the first eight and a half minutes. Still, the offense left a little to be desired between some poor shooting and careless turnovers, although it’s important to note the Red Raiders have one of the best defenses in the country.
Somehow, though, it would get even worse as Mike McGuirl hit Kansas State’s only field goal over the next eight minutes. Meanwhile, Texas Tech figured out how to attack the Wildcat defense, reeling off a 17-2 run by going inside to Bryson Williams and knocking down some outside shots.
The Red Raiders would extend their lead to eight points before K-State closed out the half with 3-pointers by McGuirl and Ish Massoud, who otherwise had a terrible shooting day. Nijel Pack got a wide open look to give KSU a lead just before the buzzer, but it rattled out and Davion Bradford missed his second chance opportunity.
Another missed three, this time by Smith, opened the second half and some of us wondered whether K-State would keep alive its streak of holding a lead in every Big 12 game. We didn’t have to wonder very long as the defense kept Tech in check long enough for Pack to hit a pullup jumper as part of an 8-0 run during a four-minute scoring drought for the Red Raiders.
Pack continued to be a reliable option offensively and Smith started to contribute as well. Luke Kasubke even hit a three for the first time since December, which was cool.
Williams did enough to keep Texas Tech in it for a while, but honestly Kansas State’s defense was just too good. The Cats held the Red Raiders to below 40% shooting, forced 18 turnovers, and even won the rebounding battle!
It was truly a complete team effort against a team that actually looked really good on offense just two days ago at home against Oklahoma State. The energy was all there, and Tech got no easy looks close to the basket.
If K-State (9-7, 1-4) can find a way to bring this kind of effort every game, it truly could beat anyone in this league. Of course, that’s a tall order and it will be put to the test next week when the Cats play at Texas and then host Kansas.
Three in the Key
- 3-ball to rescue. It’s clear now that one way this team differs from the past two, which both ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in 3-point shooting, is its ability to shoot from long range. The Cats hit 9-of-26 on Saturday to move above 35% for the season. Pack and Smith are shooting 40% or better, and Massoud, Nowell and McGuirl are all credible threats from outside. It’s the perfect way to recover from KSU’s signature scoring droughts or open up a sizeable lead quickly, and it’s also opening up driving lanes on the inside since defenses have to come out to guard shooters.
- Perimeter prominence. It’s no secret by now that guards are the strength of this team, and that was more evident than ever on Saturday. The perimeter players contributed 52 of Kansas State’s 62 points and created basically everything on the offensive end. Defensively, Nowell led the way with 5 steals as the Cats harassed Texas Tech, who was at its best when it could get the ball inside to Bryson Williams, who led the Red Raiders with 20 points. Some more help from the bigs would be nice, but when they can avoid costly mistakes and just stay neutral, it’s a win.
- Two sides of Selton. Let’s start with the good. Miguel played spectacular defense, contesting shots, drawing charges and just generally making life miserable for whoever he was guarding. But on offense? Yikes. Tech appeared content to let Miguel shoot jump shots all night, and he missed most of them, going 3-of-10 from the field and 0-2 from 3. He also committed a team-high 5 turnovers. Thankfully, he did make an open layup down the stretch. Still, it sure would be nice if he could avoid being a liability on the offensive end.