The No. 14 Kansas State Wildcats overcame a prolonged drought late in the first half to upend the No. 9 Baylor Bears Tuesday evening in Bramlage Coliseum, 75-65. With the win K-State (21-7, 9-6 Big 12) completed its first season sweep of any team in the league. Fitting—and perhaps, for Coach Tang, a little bittersweet—that the accomplishment should come against Baylor (20-8, 9-6), his former team, and Head Coach Scott Drew, his mentor.
Both games between these teams were highly competitive, and both featured transcendent play from K-State’s two senior stars. Marquis Nowell connected with Keyontae Johnson for a lob and layup to open K-State’s scoring in the game. It would be a sign of things to come.
Nowell would go scoreless in the first half, though he did get his teammates involved with 4 assists. He never connected on a three-pointer (he was 0-6, and K-State’s guard trio of Nowell, Sills and Carter were a collective 0-13), but the Wildcats put the ball in his hands late, and he buried six consecutive free throws to keep Baylor at bay. Nowell finished with 12 points and 10 assists, his sixth double-double of the season. He also had two steals. But the biggest, most impressive stat of the night was a zero. The ten assists came against no turnovers. As a team, K-State was guilty of only 7. That is a marked improvement. And it was keyed by Markquis.
Johnson, who had been in a scoring slump lately, at least by his standards, led all scorers in the game with 25 points. He scored on layups. He scored on midrange jumpers. He threw down a vicious reach-back dunk on a fast break. He scored two three pointers on 4 attempts. In other words, Keyontae was back to being that diverse scoring threat that gave teams fits when the Cats were rolling to start Big 12 play. He was also reasonably efficient, making 11 of 17 shots.
But that’s not all Johnson brought to the floor tonight. He also contributed 4 assists, including a beautiful pass early in the game when he was pressured in the right corner, reached wide, and threw a perfect bounce-pass with sidespin to David N’Guessan for an easy lay-in. He also assisted Ismael Massoud on a three-point bucket that gave K-State a 5-point lead, and later threw a beautiful angle-pass down the lane to Cam Cater for a layup that stretched K-State’s lead to 23-13 with 7:16 to play in the half.
That would be the last highlight to celebrate for awhile, unfortunately. K-State stuck at 23 for three minutes, and though a Carter layup broke the funk temporarily, a combination of bad offense and losing track of Baylor three-point shooters too often led to an absurd 21-3 Baylor run that put Tang’s Gang behind by a 34-26 count with 90 seconds remaining until halftime. Fortunately for K-State, Nae’Qwan hit a corner three-pointer and converted a nice pass from Desi Sills into a dunk to close the half with the Cats down only 34-31.
Beyond the stars, the rest of the Wildcats did what role-players are supposed to do. Carter was the only other Wildcat in double-figures, with 10. He also had two assists and two steals, and he tied Tomlin for the team lead with 8 rebounds. Tomlin, N’Guessan, Sills, and Massoud scored 8, 7, 6, and 5 for some kind of weird teamwork symmetry that we won’t even try to explain.
Baylor hung around behind the excellence of freshman Keyonte George (23 points, 6-10 from three) and LJ Cryer (16 points, 6 assists). K-State held the third head of the Baylor perimeter beast, Adam Flagler, in check, however. Flagler scored only 4 points, and only made 1 of 13 field goal attempts. That 7.7 percent performance, authored mostly by the defense of Johnson, Carter, Sills, was the difference between The Bears being good and being truly special.
Three in the Key
- We have talked for weeks about K-State’s need to clean up the turnovers, and credit goes to the team for doing that. The Cats committed 11 against Iowa State and only 7 tonight against Baylor. The beauty of the low giveaway rate is amplified by K-State’s 20 assists on 28 field goals. Turns out, you don’t have to be reckless or fancy. Just be in the right place, and deliver the right pass, on time.
- Second in importance during this two-game turnaround has been the defense. Baylor and Iowa State are both capable of putting up big offensive numbers, but K-State held them to 55 and 65, respectively. Since the coring pace has slowed as teams become more familiar with each other, elevating the defensive effort was imperative. Again, credit to the guys and the staff for accomplishing the mission.
- Sandstorm is back. And it’s fun, even without the stupid, profane, irrelevant chant. The PA system blared the tune while the lights were turned down and fans were encouraged to wave cellphone flashlights. It was cool on TV, and must have been amazing in the arena. Maybe, just maybe, if K-State can keep winning on the regular, there will be no need for silly fixations in the future.
Now tied with Baylor for third in the league behind the Birds and Bevo, K-State must find a way to recapture early-season form on the road at Oklahoma State Saturday at 1:00 to keep pace. The Cowboys have lost three straight, surrendering 87, 100, and 85 points in the process. After K-State’s most recent road performances at Texas Tech and OU, Oklahoma State surely senses opportunity coming to Stillwater.