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Comeback Cats: K-State 75, Iowa State 69 (OT)

Is the bubble talk real? Or is it just talk?

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Iowa State
This was a shot. And it went in. Not lying. I promise.
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas State started slowly, and by the time the ESPNU broadcast finished with Rhode Island’s upset of Davidson and began broadcasting from Ames, Iowa State held a 13-2 lead over the Cats. But after yielding 40 first half points to the normally offensively-limited Cyclones (16-9, 3-9 Big 12), K-State (13-11, 5-7) held them to 23 in the second period and ultimately prevailed in overtime, 75-69.

Iowa State’s surprise starter Aljaz Kunc must not have been on Coach Weber’s scouting report. The 6-8 Slovenian, who averages 5.6 points per game, made 3 three-point baskets and two free throws to account for 11 of the ‘Clones’ first 13 points. All of that happened before K-State put a single point on the board. Ismael Massoud ended the opening drought with a lay-up off a Markquis Nowell feed with three and a half minutes gone. After starting so poorly, the Wildcats played catch-up until well into the second half.

A key number was 58. K-State under Coach Weber has played at such a slow pace traditionally that “first to 60” is a bit of a running joke among Cat fans. Iowa State reached 58 on a pair of Izaiah Brockington free throws with just over nine minutes to play, giving his team a 58-48 lead. As if allowing the Cyclones to reach 60 might doom them, the Wildcats locked down defensively and on the glass to hold Iowa State scoreless over the next six minutes-plus.

K-State went on a 12-0 run in that time to be the first to 60, and to take their first lead of the day.

It started with an improbable bucket by Nowell. After Iowa State blocked a Selton Miguel shot on a drive, Nowell collected the offensive rebound and hit a high-arcing jumper in the lane. 58-50.

Off another miss by Miguel, Massoud flew in from the wing and stuffed home the rebound. 58-52.

Mike McGuirl stole the ball and made a contested layup. 58-54.

After Mark Smith split a pair of free throws, Nowell stole the ball again and made one of the most absurd, over-the-head, reverse layups you’ll ever see. He was fouled and canned the free throw. 58-58.

After another stop and a rebound, Massoud made a difficult fall-away jumper to give the Wildcats their first lead of the day, 60-58. Stop the clock. Game over, right?

Unfortunately, not. 4:09 remained in regulation, and the Cyclones were not ready to give up so easily.

Gabe Kalscheur made a layup on the next possession to end the 6:11 drought for Iowa State and to tie the game at 60-all. That man—Aljaz Kunc—then drained his fifth three-pointer of the day to give the home team a three-point advantage. Most frustratingly, K-State had played a stellar defensive possession and forced a difficult shot, but could not clear the rebound. Kunc was all alone above the arc only because there was such a scramble for the ball along the baseline.

Nijel Pack answered with a cool three-point dagger from in front of the K-State bench, and with 2:36 to play, the score was knotted at 63.

On the next possession, Pack’s jumper from the elbow went halfway down the well before spinning out. Both teams missed two more three-point attempts before time expired. The Cats had the last possession with 0:19 remaining in regulation, but they never got into a play. Nowell dribbled around until the clock was down to four seconds, then his attempt from beyond 30 feet was blocked.

That kind of thing can be a harbinger of tragedy for teams that have fought from behind all day (all year, even). And when Brockington scored to put Iowa State up 65-63 on the first possession of overtime, and Pack made only 1-of-2 free throws to leave K-State a point in arears midway through the OT period, it was hard not to be pessimistic.

But Nowell made another acrobatic layup to tie the score. Then McGuirl collected a steal and scored off a Pack assist to give K-State a lead it would not surrender again.

With 1:04 to play, Mark Smith drove the right baseline and tossed to Nowell in the left corner. He buried the three to give the Cats their first two-possession lead, 71-66.

Two free throws by Miguel stretched the lead to 7. Brockington hit a long jumper to get within 4 with 18 seconds remaining. But K-State broke the backcourt pressure, and Massoud punctuated the win with a two-handed throwdown for the final 75-69 margin.

Nijel Pack led the Wildcats with 19 points. He also had 6 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, and (what’s this?) 2 blocked shots. Pack’s 19 points came on only 10 field goal attempts. He made 7 of them, including a clutch—and incredible,—4 of 5 from beyond the three-point arc.

Mark Smith scored 15 and grabbed 9 rebounds, narrowly missing yet another double-double in his 44 minutes of action.

Wednesday night we chided Pack and Smith’s teammates for failing to pitch in. Message received, apparently.

Nowell played 44 minutes and scored 16 points. He led the team with 6 assists, grabbed 4 rebounds, and snatched 3 steals. Massoud’s 11 points off the bench all seemed to come at huge times. So much so, in fact, that the box score seems as if it must be wrong. McGuirl just missed double figures, scoring 9. But he filled the stat sheet with 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.

Selton Miguel returned to action for the first time since injuring an ankle against Baylor on January 25. He also contributed across the board, with 5 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal and a block in 22 minutes.

Izaiah Brockington led all scorers with 27. Kunc was the only other Cyclone to reach double-digits, with 19.

Three in the Key

  1. After K-State blew two 16-point leads earlier in the season, it was nice to see them turn the tables and do it to someone else. (Okay, it was only 15. But let’s not be pedantic, okay?) Early in the game the Cats looked lost on both ends of the floor. With “Hilton Magic” up in their faces, a blowout loss seemed imminent. Kudos to the Cats for tuning out the negative, turning up the effort, and finding a way to win.
  2. Rebounding has been a serious problem for K-State lately, especially beginning with the KU game. The Cats struggled to clear the boards at times in this game, too, as they gave up 14 second-chance points. But the 12-0 run to put the Cats in front was fueled by aggressive passing-lane defense, contesting shots around the rim (Nijel had two blocks, y’all!), and clearing the boards to end Iowa State possessions. They did this impressively late and in overtime, especially considering that most of Iowa State's shots came from distance. The win was also made possible by cool plays like the Nowell offensive rebound and floater and the flying, one-handed tomahawk follow by Ish. Hitting the boards--and walling them off--paid crucial dividends. K-State only lost the rebound battle 42-37 and the second-chance points war 14-10. Still deficits. Still needs to improve. But light years ahead of that terrible effort against KU in the win-that-should-have-been.
  3. Seems funny to say it, but a win in Hilton really has to be viewed as merely “holding serve.” After their hot start to the season, the Cyclones have been reeling, losing 9 of their last 14 games. Unlike K-State, they did manage to beat their inferior SEC foe (Mizzou), but Iowa State, once ranked No. 8 in the country, may be playing themselves onto the NCAA tournament bubble. K-State, by winning today, keeps alive the hope that it can get itself at least to that same discussion come selection Sunday.

Next UP:

Valentines Day: West Virginia comes to Manhattan for a 6:00 tipoff on ESPN2. No love for Huggy. Y’hear?