Kansas State’s second-half defense gave Jerome Tang’s group a chance to win the Cayman Islands Classic in a high school gym on FloHoops.
Really, the Wildcats just needed a player or two to step up and make some offensive plays against a tough, athletic LSU squad that is also part of a total rebuild. Thankfully, Desi Sills, Markquis Nowell and finally Keyontae Johnson answered the call for a 61-59 win with a wild, wild finish.
Johnson scored 16 points, including a baseline jumper with 4.7 seconds left (and one on the shot clock) after a great play by Sills to save a loose ball from going out of bounds. The senior guard from Arkansas State scored 16 and provided a key spark off the bench, and tournament MVP Markquis Nowell put up 16, capped off by a jumper to give K-State a 59-57 lead with 49 seconds left.
After approximately 4,365 timeouts following Johnson’s jumper, LSU appeared to tie the game and force overtime on a layup released right before the buzzer. But an egregiously late start to the game clock (probably because the person controlling it fell asleep during all those timeouts) gave officials reason to waive off the basket and hand the Cats their sixth straight win to start the season. Was that totally fair to LSU? Not really. Do we care? Absolutely not.
A frantic start to the game saw LSU open up a 5-1 lead before Johnson finally hit a layup for Kansas State’s first field goal nearly two and a half minutes into the game. He scored the Wildcats’ first eight points, including a three to give them a brief 8-7 lead.
Sadly, the Tigers answered with an 8-0 run, capped off by a three from Cam Hayes. LSU shot 5-of-10 from beyond the arc before halftime and many of those were wide open looks with K-State not closing out well on shooters.
Layups by Desi Sills, Abayomi Iyiola and Markquis Nowell cut the deficit to one, but then it was LSU’s turn to go on a run, this time 10-2. Turnovers on some lazy passes and just stupid plays like the time two Cats grabbed the same defensive rebound and fell down fighting for it kept them from finding any kind of rhythm offensively.
Things looked poised to get even worse when Johnson picked up his third foul on a questionable blocking call at the 4:26 mark in the first half with K-State trailing by 10. Thankfully, a nice steal and layup followed by a guarded Desi Sills 3 actually helped the Cats cut the lead to 33-26.
A stupid taunting technical against LSU after a fastbreak dunk and a lucky bounce on a buzzer beater 3 gave Markquis Nowell almost all of his first half points. It also kept Kansas State within 8, even though it felt a lot worse thanks in large part to 11 turnovers and 7 LSU offensive rebounds.
Those issues carried over into the second half, but the Cats managed to step it up a notch defensively and free throws by Keyonate Johnson and David N’Guessan actually made it 47-41. The Cats followed that up with three wasted possessions before Markquis Nowell fell down, giving Justice Hill a wide open layup.
Four quick points out of the under-12 timeout, including a Cam Carter transition dunk, brought Kansas State back within four for the first time in a while. Almost unbelievably, the Cats missed four shots on their next possession (two about a foot from the basket) but then Sills converted a three-point play on an absolutely ridiculous driving layup in traffic.
Carter made driving to the basket for a layup look much easier to put Kansas State back in front and Nowell followed that with a fastbreak layup to make it a 17-1 run. LSU made just one field goal during a nearly 12-minute stretch and honestly, the Wildcats should have done more offensively to take advantage.
Both teams mostly traded baskets and turnovers down the stretch, although K-State would not fall behind again after Nowell’s 3 put them ahead 55-53 with 5:11 left. He scored 12 points in the second half and also added 4 assists, which was surprisingly not a team-high thanks to 5 from Sills.
If you would have told most K-State fans before this game started that Nae’Qwan Tomlin would be a nonfactor (0 points, 3 rebounds) most of us probably would have assumed the worst. But it says a lot about this team that they were able to pick him up and still earn easily their best win of the season.
Next up is another true road game next Wednesday against a Butler team that is probably not as good as you think, considering they got destroyed by Tennessee 71-45 and also lost 68-62 to Penn State earlier this season. Hopefully it’ll be a good opportunity to hand the Bulldogs some payback for what they did to the Cats in 2010. No, I will never forget.
THREE IN THE KEY
- Dominant Desi - We’ve seen plenty of his remarkable athleticism, but on Wednesday we got to see what happens when Desi Sills is playing a little more under control and actually making some shots. The result was critical to keeping K-State’s offense afloat when good looks were hard to come by and Desi also did a great job of finding his teammates when the defense tried to lock in on him. He finished 6-of-9 from the floor with 5 assists and 2 turnovers. Impressive efficiency.
- Free throw accuracy - Anyone who’s read my recaps knows how much I like to bemoan free throw shooting, and I was worried it was going to be another rough night when K-State only hit 6 of its first 10 attempts in the first half, with 3 misses by Tykei Greene. The Cats were perfect in the second half to finish 17-of-21 overall, and obviously they needed all of them.
- Turnover troubles - OK, K-State needs to find a way to get this turnover thing under control. The Cats committed 53 in three games in Cayman Islands, and some of them looked very careless. Unfortunately, it often starts with Nowell playing a bit out of control, which as we all know can also lead to dazzling plays on occasion. Still, it would be nice if he could figure out how to rein in a few of those less-than-ideal streetball instincts.