The game appeared to be decided when Iowa State (20-9, 7-9 Big 12) stretched what had been a tight, 59-57 lead with 5:39 to play to a 72-62 lead with 1:36 remaining.
K-State (14-14, 6-10) refused to yield, turning up backcourt pressure and forcing two five-second calls and a turnover near halfcourt. Selton Miguel made a lay-up to cut the deficit to 8. Markquis Nowell drove to the bucket on three consecutive possessions, drew fouls, and made his free throws. Suddenly, with 49 seconds remaining, the Cats were down only two, 72-70.
They defended straight up, and Grill was forced to shoot a deep three. The long rebound came to Nowell, who called a timeout while he was about to fall out of bounds. After a long conference, the timeout and the ball were awarded to K-State, with the explanation being that a referee had blown an inadvertent whistle while Nowell had control of the ball.
Nijel Pack dribbled to the wing, but when he reversed direction, the ball came loose at the top of the arc, and Iowa State pounced on it. Aljaz Kunc made two free throws to give the Cyclones a 4-point advantage. Pack’s make from just inside the half-court line as time expired was only enough to pull K-State within one.
In a must-win home game, the Wildcats played stifling defense early, holding the Cyclones without a field goal for the first 6:13 and building a 13-2 lead. Iowa State’s first make from the floor was a three-point bucket by Caleb Grill. It was a harbinger of things to come. Grill would go on to make 6 of 10 attempts from deep, accounting for all 18 of his points.
As a team, Iowa State made 10 of 25 three-point attempts on the day. They recovered quickly from early offensive sluggishness by running crisp team offense, amassing 19 assists on 23 made field goals.
The game featured three ties and six lead changes, as both teams had sizable runs in both halves. K-State’s final run, a 15-4 burst over the final 2:10, was one point shy of forcing overtime.
For K-State, the burden was again placed largely on the shoulders of Nijel Pack. He led all scorers with 32 points on 11-15 shooting touch. He was 6-9 from beyond the arc. But he also had some uncharacteristic mistakes against the pressure, committing 6 costly turnovers. Both the first half and the game ended with Pack losing track of the basketball. In his defense, teammates did not help him in either instance by either screening or giving him a lane to pass the ball.
Markquis Nowell managed to score 16 points while making only one shot from the field, which is kind of a neat trick. But it would have been neater if he had made at least one more of his 7 shot attempts. He also had 6 rebounds, 4 assists and three steals. Were he not a victim of some iffy calls on ball pressure, he would have been credited with at least two more take-aways.
Mark Smith battled through foul trouble to score 12 and pull down 9 rebounds. Mike McGuirl had 6 points, 4 assists and two steals.
The litany of three our four guys doing it all, while the rest do almost nothing offensively continues. Beyond Pack, Smith, Nowell and McGuirl, no Wildcat scored more than two points. The five others to see action combined for only 7 points and committed 4 of the team’s 14 turnovers.
Though K-State did a decent job of holding all-conference lock Izaiah Brockington in check (he had 17 points on 6-14 shooting), his supporting cast carried the day. Freshman guard Tyrese Hunter scored 13, threw 10 assists, and pulled down 7 rebounds. Most importantly, he was the one to dislodge the ball from Pack to end the K-State threat.
Grill, as previously mentioned, poured in 18 points, as the Cyclones got 31 from their bench.
Three in the Key
- Stick a fork in the tourney talk. Unless K-State wins the Big 12 Tournament—a feat it has never accomplished, by the way—this team will be waiting for an NIT pairing, at best.
- The formula doesn’t seem to matter. Get down big—tight game late. Get up big—tight game late. In the postmortem analysis, the Wildcats will lament a total of 6 or 7 plays across the entire season that ruined their chances to dance.
- Boy, it’s fun to watch Pack shoot when he is in rhythm. His mechanics never waver. Nowell has helped take some pressure off him, and even with the screws applied today, he still found a way to score 32. Whatever happens, we all have to hope he stays in Manhattan to finish what is already a stellar career. Painful turnovers aside, he was the main reason K-State had a chance to win the game today, and he is their best chance to get this ship turned around in the years to come.
At Texas Tech Monday at 8:00 p.m. If K-State could win there (and on the Red Raiders’ senior night, no less), it would be the first visitor to do so.