A game pitting two desperate 10-10 teams against each other in Bramlage Coliseum Wednesday night fittingly came down to the last possession. Thanks to the heroic play of sophomore guard Nijel Pack, Kansas State prevailed over the Oklahoma State Cowboys by a final score of 71-68.
With the game tied 68-68 and 12 seconds to play, K-State’s Markquis Nowell launched a three-point attempt from above the circle. It missed, but Pack tied up the Oklahoma State rebounder. The possession arrow gave the ball back to the Wildcats. After the inbounds pass, Pack dribbled the ball between the circles, broke down Cowboys’ point guard Isaac Likekele, and launched a game-winning three point bucket over his head from about 24 feet. As he had done through all of the first half and much of the night, Pack drew nothing but net.
Oklahoma State’s desperation heave at the other end was off target, and K-State (11-10, 3-6 Big 12) walked off with a much-needed Big 12 victory.
Though Pack, who was a perfect 5-5 and had 13 points in the first half on the way to 22 on the night, rightfully gets primary accolades, Mark Smith was much more than mere sidekick, pouring in 19 points of his own. Just as importantly, after being held to a single rebound in the first half, the Big 12’s leading rebounder grabbed seemingly every key carom in the second period and finished with 8 boards on the night.
Unlike the debacle in Oxford, other players stepped up and contributed, as well.
Super Senior Mike McGuirl drew difficult defensive assignments all night and still managed to fill the stat sheet, with 6 points and a team-leading 10 rebounds against the tall, athletic Cowboy squad. Mike also led the Cats with 4 assists and was not charged with a turnover.
Nowell, after being strangely quiet on Saturday, scored 12 points, grabbed 4 rebounds, and tossed 3 assists. A pivotal moment occurred when he forced a tie-up on the defensive end with under a minute to play. That effort flipped the all-important possession arrow to K-State’s favor. This seemingly inconsequential play—as every play in a one possession game—turned out to be very consequential, indeed, in the end.
Davion Bradford emerged at least partway from his season-long funk, scoring 6 points, blocking out well for 3 rebounds, blocking a shot, and even collecting 2 assists and a steal. Again, every play wound up being big.
After Pack’s hot start carried K-State to the break with a 39-32 lead, it appeared the Wildcats might (again) squander their early fortune. Oklahoma State erased all seven points of that lead and took a 51-50 advantage with 13:51 to play. All the momentum seemed to be with the visitors. The Cowboys would twice lead by 5 in the second half, with their last margin that large coming just before the 8-minute mark, at 62-57.
Mark Smith (who had himself been whistled for an intentional foul earlier in the game on a Cowboy fast break) got pulled to the floor after an offensive rebound and was the beneficiary of an intentional foul call against Bryce Thompson. Smith made both free throws to bring K-State within 3. Two possessions later, he hit a driving layup through contact. The hoop and the free throws tied the game at 62-all.
Oklahoma State reclaimed the lead three times down the stretch. The first two times, Mark Smith answered to re-tie the game. With 1:01 on the clock, Nowell hit two free throws to knot the game at 68 and set up the final drama.
One nice change of pace for the Wildcats: They ended the first half on a 13-0 run. Seems as if most of the season that kind of thing has been done to the Cats, rather than by them. K-State was a sizzling 16-26 from the field in the first period, good for 61.5% shooting. They cooled off considerably in the second half, making only 11 of 34 and finishing at 45% for the evening.
K-State made 9 of 23 three-point attempts. Pack, after hitting his first three long tries, missed the next three before sinking the decisive shot. Oklahoma State hit 8 of its 25 outside shots.
Three in the Key
- Well, it’s a win, sure. But it came against the worst team in the league, right? Don’t be so sure. Oklahoma State is banned from the post-season, but this is an athletic, talented team that has beaten both Texas and Baylor. Every team in the Big 12 has to earn every win. The Cats showed a lot of desire and made just enough plays to take this one.
- Pack and Smith have been constants. Nowell has been brilliant at times and almost always impacts a game. The play of the rest of the cast defines whether K-State wins or loses, more often than not. Nobody else has to be spectacular; but every player needs to do his job. Tonight, McGuirl’s stat-stuffing performance—particularly in the rebounding category--was absolutely crucial to the win. If Bradford can build back to the way he performed last year, and if Ismael Massoud can defend well and find his shooting touch on a more regular basis, K-State might even find a way to win a game by a somewhat comfortable margin before the season ends.
- Game one in the “opportunity tour” in Mississippi was abysmal. Game two, tonight, was a step in the right direction. Next up is the “revenge” portion, with the Cats traveling to Fort Worth to take on TCU Saturday, and No. 8 Baylor coming to Manhattan next Tuesday night. Treading so close to the .500 line, K-State absolutely must win at least one of those games if it is to have any chance of postseason play. Baylor would be a tall ask, so Saturday’s game is highly, highly important.