No. 14 Kansas State played a back-and-forth game with Oklahoma State in Stillwater Saturday before steadying the offense and pulling away late to win 73-68.
It was the first road win for the Wildcats (22-7, 10-6 Big 12) since beating Texas and Baylor back-to-back in the first week of January. For the Cowboys (16-13, 7-9) it was the fourth straight loss, after they had forged a 5-game winning streak that included victories over then-No. 15 TCU at home and then-No. 11 Iowa State on the road.
The game was competitive throughout, with K-State forging a 29-24 lead with under five minutes to play in the first half, only to see Oklahoma State make an 11-0 run to take a 6-point advantage with 1:33 to go. Two free throws at 0:22 and a steal and layup at the buzzer gave Desi Sills a personal 4-point run to get the Cats back to within two, 35-33, at halftime.
Busy whistles made the early part of the second period disjointed, but a three-point bucket by Markquis Nowell put K-State back in front, 40-39, before the first media timeout. Unfortunately, a spate of turnovers and fouls allowed Oklahoma State to put on a 14-5 surge to forge an 8-point advantage, 53-45, with 11:36 to play.
At this point, K-State finally cleaned up the sloppy ball-handling and got shots up on the goal. Turns out, that simple formula (plus a ref-aided momentum swing) did the trick.
Ismael Massoud scored an easy layup off a feed from Cam Carter. Carter enjoyed throwing that assist so much that he gave one to David N’Guessan on the next possession, and the deficit was cut to 4. Coach Tang was certain N’Guessan had been fouled on the take. Maybe he was; maybe not. But the inconsistency of the officiating all day long was affecting the game, and Tang decided to make a point. He made the point a little more pointedly than the refs were willing to tolerate, and he was slapped with a technical foul.
Oklahoma State probably wishes they could have waved it off.
The Cowboys’ Caleb Asberry made both free throws to reassert a 6-point advantage. But after that, K-State used renewed energy to turn up defensive pressure, put together a 10-2 run, and grab a 59-57 lead. Oklahoma State’s John-Michael Wright made a three-pointer to reclaim a one-point advantage. But an answer three from Keyontae Johnson from the left side, and another on the ensuing possession by Ismael Massoud, gave the Wildcats a 65-60 advantage with 5:10 to play. They would not trail again.
Points were hard for both teams to muster late, as passes and drives were cut off and shots were contested with physicality at the rim. K-State stuck at 65 points from the 5:10 until the last media timeout at 2:44. Yet Oklahoma State could only draw within 2.
Two free throws from Nowell stretched the K-State cushion to 67-63. After a Kalib Boone made one of two free throws, Johnson hit Sills for a layup, and the Cats led by 5 with two minutes to play. Nowell and Cam Carter each made two free throws to thwart the Cowboy comeback attempt.
With the win, K-State remained in a third place tie with Baylor, who handled Texas at home. Both are a game behind the Longhorns, and 1.5 behind Kansas, who is in a tight game with West Virginia in Lawrence at the moment.
Nowell led the Cats with 22 points. He hit two early threes to set the tone, but made only 3 of 8 on the day. He was 9-10 from the free throw line and had 8 assists, 5 rebounds, and 4 steals. Johnson put in 17 points on 7-13 shooting, including 3-5 from deep. He tied Nowell for team-high in rebounding, with 5. Sills also managed double figure scoring, with 10.
Oklahoma State had four players in double-figures, led by Boone, who had 18.
Three in the Key
- We have harped on it for weeks, and we aren’t stopping now. The past week showed just how important it is for K-State to value the basketball. The usually-giveaway-prone Cats were on a losing streak largely because they did not get shots at the rim on too many possessions. It appeared they had cleaned up that deficiency, as they committed only 11 turnovers against Iowa State and 7 against Baylor. Today, there was a little regression to the mean. K-State turned the ball over 16 times, which accounts for the game being in doubt. 19 of Oklahoma State’s 69 points came off turnovers. Nowell was dinged with 7, though admittedly, not all were entirely his fault. But over the last 12:46, K-State only lost the ball twice (h/t HouCat for the stat). Cause...effect. K-State almost lost a game in which it out-shot the opponent 49% to 41%, solely because they turned the ball over far too often, and in the process gave up easy buckets to the opponent. Getting shots is critical, and it matters at both ends of the floor.
- The stars—Nowell and Johnson—did their thing, and everyone else contributed by performing their individual roles. Similar to Tuesday’s game, three players hit double figures, but the rest of the roster chipped in. Four others had 7, 6, 6, and 5 (after an unlikely 8-7-6-5 small straight in the midweek contest). Beyond offensive contributions, the team defense—once it ratcheted up—stifled Oklahoma State’s attempts to attack the basket, and seven guys had at least 3 rebounds. The contributions of role-players filling their roles has been important in every win, and it will be more important as postseason play looms. Team basketball wins in March.
- Everyone should be digging this show. K-State, you’ll remember, got a total of 12 votes in the preseason Big 12 poll, predicted by a wide margin to finish last. And here we are, guaranteed a winning conference record, guaranteed at least a tie for third place in the regular season, and legitimately dreaming of such a favorable seeding that the NCAA tournament committee will have to give the Wildcats a regional close to home. Kind of thrills you a little about what comes next, doesn’t it?
Senior night against Oklahoma on Wednesday. March 1 at 7:00. We have some short-time seniors on the squad, but they deserve a sendoff. Because man, they have given us a ride.