Once again, Kansas State played one miserable half and one inspired half at Bramlage Coliseum on Monday night.
Fortunately, this time the Wildcats chose the second half to play well despite a rare off night for Nijel Pack and did enough to close things out. Also, West Virginia remembered how terrible it is offensively, so that didn’t hurt.
The key stretch came midway through the final period, when Kansas State reeled off an 18-2 run while West Virginia somehow failed to make a field goal for nearly ten minutes after taking a 10-point lead. Nijel Pack pulled off a great block and hit the game-tying layup on his way to 13 points while Mark Smith capped off the run with two of his 17 points for the night.
The Mizzou transfer shined on the glass once again, grabbing 10 rebounds for a double-double. He also continued to show improvement at the free throw line, making 10-of-11.
A 7-0 West Virginia run cut the lead to one with a little more than two minutes to play, but then Dimon Carrigan inexplicably fouled Ish Massoud on a 3-pointer and he knocked down all three free throws. The Mountaineers came up empty on every possession the rest of the way thanks to an ugly combination of bad turnovers and ill-advised threes.
Markquis Nowell hit a 3-pointer on Kansas State’s opening possession and West Virginia responded with an offensive rebound that led to a putback. That ended up being a pretty good representation of how the first half went for the two offenses, except after starting 4-of-5 from 3 the Cats moved to the free throw line for most of their points.
Kansas State’s inability to score inside the arc and some turnover issues — 6 in the first 10 minutes — helped West Virginia open up an early lead they would keep throughout the first half. The Mountaineers took advantage of the Wildcats’ lack of post presence and also hit some threes of their own to take a 42-35 lead into halftime, the most points they’ve scored in the first half of a Big 12 game this season.
Honestly, K-State was lucky West Virginia didn’t do more to take advantage of its 12 offensive rebounds, which the Mountaineers converted into only 14 points. Most importantly, Kansas State didn’t give up any offensive boards in the final 15 minutes of the game, despite only one rebound for Bradford and Massoud in a combined 35 minutes.
But even with the turnovers, some difficulty scoring inside, and only 5 points on 2-of-8 shooting by Nijel Pack, there were some bright spots in the first half for K-State. My personal favorite was a beautiful fast break that started with a Pack steal and finished with a Mark Smith and-1 after some great ball movement.
Markquis Nowell also did some good things on both ends, and with much higher efficiency than usual. He scored 20 points on 7-11 shooting, including 4-of-6 from the free throw line.
Another important factor all night was Kansas State’s free throw shooting, as they hit 10-of-11 in the first half and 31-of-39 for the game. We all know how games against West Virginia can often turn into free throw contests, especially when referees don’t seem to have any sort of consistent definition for what constitutes a foul.
So suddenly, Kansas State has won four of its last five conference games and can get back to .500 in Big 12 play with a win at Oklahoma State on Saturday. That would surely put the Cats on the right side of the bubble for the first time all season.
Of course, the Cowboys beat West Virginia beat West Virginia by 23 last weekend, so expect that one to be a little tougher. Road games at KU and Texas Tech will also be challenging in the coming weeks, but all things considered Kansas State has put itself in a good position after such a dismal start to Big 12 play.
Three in the Key
- Unconventional offense - It’s not often you see Kansas State win a game with an equal number of 2-point baskets and turnovers. But that’s exactly what happened Monday as the Cats actually took care of the ball well after some early struggles, committing only 10 turnovers for the game. Fortunately, KSU shot 37% (9-24) from 3 for the second straight game and managed to find success at the free throw line, as noted earlier. In fact, if Mike McGuirl hadn’t missed a pair of meaningless free throws at the end, Kansas State would have hit 80 for the first time since Dec. 12 vs. Green Bay.
- Massoud helping out - This wasn’t close to Ish Massoud’s best shooting performance, and he looked downright clumsy around the rim at times trying to repeat the play of the year candidate he had at Iowa State on the putback slam. But with some help from West Virginia’s defenders who gave him 5 free points by fouling on two 3-point attempts, Ish still managed to score 13 and offer some much-needed scoring help for the Wildcat guards. The one three he hit couldn’t have come at a better time, giving Kansas State a 74-66 lead with 3:48 remaining. We should also give Massoud some credit for playing decent post defense down low, a position he’s not necessarily accustomed to but has been forced to play thanks to an injury to Kaosi Ezeagu and whatever’s happened to Davion Bradford.
- First half defense - Look, we need to talk about Kansas State’s defense before halftime. For the second straight game, the Cats lacked intensity and made one of the Big 12’s worst offenses look quite competent. Obviously, this team is capable of doing much better. They need to figure out how to reach that level more consistently, and they need to do it quickly.