Kansas State led for more than 38 minutes of its game against No. 7 Kansas on Saturday. But the Wildcats (10-8, 2-5 Big 12) did not lead in the closing seconds, and KU (16-2, 5-1) escaped a raucous Bramlage Coliseum with a 78-75 win.
K-State sophomore Nijel Pack did his best Jacob Pullen impression, scoring 35 points and staking K-State to a 16-point, 50-34, lead at the half. KU whittled it way, but the Cats still held a 10-point advantage midway through the second period, and they refused to yield the advantage until the waning moments of the game.
The key play came just inside the one-minute mark, with K-State leading 75-72. KU’s Ochai Agbaji took a handoff from David McCormack on the right wing and went up for a three-point attempt. K-State’s Selton Miguel absorbed a hip-check from McCormack as he tried to get over the screen. As he fell to the floor, he made contact with Agbaji’s leg. The refs called a foul on Miguel. Oddly, Agbaji was awarded only two free throws. Bill self was apoplectic to only get two charity tosses. K-State coaches and fans were livid that the refs did not call a moving screen, and then compounded the error by ticketing Miguel for a foul. Everybody was right to be mad. Not that it mattered.
Agbaji made both free throws to bring KU within 1 point. At the other end, Markquis Nowell had a layup attempt blocked out of bounds, then missed a three-point attempt to set up a decisive final possession. Agbaji drove from the wing and made a floater to put KU ahead by 1, 76-75. With 5 seconds remaining, Pack found an open look at a long three-pointer. He had made seemingly everything all day. But this one, he left short. Agbaji made two more free throws for the final margin.
K-State has exhibited some undesirable habits this season, and they reared their heads again.
After building the big lead, the Cats started slowly after halftime, allowing KU to crawl back within arm’s reach.
K-State missed key free throws, making only 11-18. Though some of Kansas’s better players obliged by missing a few charity tosses, as well, they took advantage of a 12-attempt disparity, making 21 of 30 to outscore the Cats 21-11 at the line.
K-State got battered on the boards, losing that battle-within-the-battle 45-23. (Yes, you read that right.) KU is adept at the low leverage (that’s the polite term for it) and repeatedly rode K-State rebounders under the rim so they could collect caroms and get putbacks. The Jayhawks won the second-chance points battle 19-8. In a game in which the opposition never led by more than the final 3-point margin, the 10-point disparity at the line, the 11-point shortfall on second-chance points, and every tiny error in-between becomes magnified.
Perhaps the most damning of the bad habits: The Cats scored their last points on a Pack jumper with 3:09 to play. That tally put K-State up 75-69. They would be outscored 9-0 the rest of the way to lose by 3.
Perhaps the saddest of the repeat habits is that of wasting stellar performances by one of the team’s stars. Mark Smith has played exceptionally in two K-State losses. Today, it was Pack’s turn.
The sophomore guard was unguardable in the first half, making 8 of 10 shots, including 6 of 8 from outside, to have 22 points at the break. KU made a concerted effort to crowd him in the second stanza, but he still went 4-8 (2-4) for 13 more points, giving him a career-high 35. That number eclipsed his previous best by 9.
Markquis Nowell was also tremendous. The quick point guard made two ridiculous shots to finish drives before halftime, including one that fell through the rim while he was landing flat on his back after being fouled. He constantly frustrated Kansas by breaking down the perimeter defense and getting to the rim, and he frankly outplayed the much-ballyhooed Remy Martin. Though the Jayhawks were clearly well schooled in what Nowell likes to do when he gets the ball deep, they never really stopped him unless he missed his own shot. Add up his stats, and he had 16 points on 6-14 (1-5) shooting, 6 assists, 3 steals, and only 1 turnover.
Miguel also hit double-figures, scoring 11. A damaging stat: No Wildcat collected more than 4 rebounds.
Agbaji led four KU scorers in double figures, with 29.
Three in the Key
- “Close” is really, really getting old. K-State gave up a lead in similar fashion to TCU and have been oh-sooo-close oh-soooo-often, only to fall short. They seemed to have righted that ship against Texas Tech and Texas, pulling out close wins late in both of those games. Today, it was not to be. This team has showed that it is good enough—or at least “almost” good enough—to beat absolutely anyone in the league. After 4 of their 5 conference losses have been by exactly three points each, the frustration with coming up one or two plays short of winning is palpable.
- It doesn’t get any easier. K-State is at No. 5 Baylor Tuesday Night.
- Another unneeded reason to hate KU. You know what to say, BOTC’ers. #Sandstorm