In its 69-52 win over Kansas City, Kansas State flashed hints of brilliance and plenty of room for growth.
Keyontae Johnson arrived on time for the 5:30 tip, scoring the team’s first 8 points to stake his Wildcats to an 8-2 lead in what was otherwise a slow offensive start for both teams. Cam Carter eventually joined the first half scoring parade, making 4 of his 7 three-point attempts and two free throws to lead all scorers with 14 at the break, as the Cats built a 41-25 halftime cushion. It appeared the only question would be whether K-State (3-0, 0-0 Big 12) would be able to maintain focus and pull away.
Early returns after the break suggested they would do so. The undisputed highlight play of the night occurred when Johnson stole the ball and finished Marquis Nowell’s between-the-legs bounce pass with an emphatic dunk. That bucket gave K-State its first 20-point advantage, 47-27, with 17:43 to play.
But over the next 7-plus minutes, the Wildcats would score only 6 points, while the offensively challenged Roos cut into the lead. A technical foul for taunting (a borderline ridiculous one, we must confess) after his layup pulled Kansas City within 14 allowed K-State to get two free points at the line. The Cats converted the offensive possession, too, off a nice assist by Desi Sills to Johnson, and the lead again seemed secure at 57-39.
But K-State missed enough close finishes, lost enough Roos on defense, and gave up just enough offensive putbacks to see the visitors cut the margin to 10, 59-49, with 5:51 remaining. Fortunately, Sills made several key plays down the stretch to secure the K-State win.
Twice the left-hander made nice 1-on-1 moves to convert layups. Sills scored 10 of K-State’s last 12 points, and when Kansas City ran a double-team at him in the mid post, he found Keyontae Johnson on the baseline for an easy bucket to assist on the only basket he did not score for K-State in the last six minutes of play.
Johnson led the way for K-State with 19 points. Carter scored two in the second half to finish with 16, and Sills scored 11, all but one in the pivotal final stretch. Both Nowell and Nae’Quann Tomlin, who missed a handful of close opportunities while shooting 3-11, finished a point shy of double-figures at 9 points each.
After hitting 7 three-point baskets in the first half, K-State made none in the second period. Both teams shot 41% from the floor, but KC was only 4-15 from deep, while the Cats managed to make 7-20.
KC’s Shemarri Allen led all scorers with 21 points.
Three in the Key
- “Key” as in “Key”-ontae. The Florida transfer is a rare talent—the kind of smooth, polished player who elevates an entire roster. Johnson can score when he wants to. But he does so, so much more. He facilitates, tying Nowell for a game-high 6 assists. He’s efficient (19 points on 8-12 shooting). He does the grunt work, tying Tomlin for team high with 7 rebounds, including a key offensive board and follow when the game was starting to get tight. Oh, and when it is called for, he plays above the rim, finishing a lob early and converting the aforementioned slam on the fast break. You would have to look back more than a few years to find any K-State player who was both as athletic and as well-rounded.
- Maintaining energy and focus is always a challenge in mismatch games, and perhaps never more so than before a vacation or a big trip. K-State will be boarding a plane for the Cayman Islands Classic soon, and though Kansas City got within 10 late, it always felt as if the Cats could put on a burst to pull away, if they only asserted themselves and imposed their will. They managed to do so, but with tournament games on the horizon, followed by a visit to historic Hinkle Fieldhouse to take on the Butler Bulldogs, Tte Wildcats will not have the luxury of letting down their guard much longer.
- A moment to complain about media coverage, if you’ll indulge us: Much as we enjoy Ben Boyle’s calls on ESPN+, a combination of weak scheduling, small market and Big 12 media package tomfoolery have only two of K-State’s 12 regular season games before league play being broadcast on widely-available television outlets. Want to see the Thanksgiving tournament games? Get out your credit card. You will need to subscribe to FloHoops. Otherwise, WyattVision for you. Online streaming may be the wave of the future, but it negates any chance of drawing casual eyes to the games and, frankly, it feels like relegation. The only answer, of course, is to win. Win a lot, and force your way onto the three-letter and four-letter networks. Early returns for Coach Tang suggest we’ll get there. Maybe sooner than expected.
K-State plays Rhode Island on November 21 at 6:30 in the Cayman Island Classic.