No. 12 Kansas State led No. 17 TCU most of the way Tuesday night in Manhattan, but it took a 15-0 burst late to put away the Horned Frogs and cement an 82-61 victory for the Wildcats.
K-State (19-5, 7-4 Big 12), took a double-digit lead when Desi Sills buried a 3-point jumper to make the score 51-40 with 14:38 to play. The margin would remain greater than 10 points until a 6-0 run by TCU (17-7, 6-5) got the Frogs within 6, 65-59, with 4:50 remaining. Game on, it seemed. Right?
Not so much.
After a timeout in which Jerome Tang apparently shared the secret of life, basketball, and everything in the huddle, K-State held TCU without a point over the next 3:49 and ran off 15 straight points of its own to open an 80-59 advantage. The final shot of the run was a three-point bucket by Markquis Nowell from at least three or for feet into the back side of the center-court logo. That shot bookended one in the first half, which he launched and nailed from the PowerCat’s nose.
Before the late run and ultimate celebration, the Wildcats exhibited flashes of both the brilliance and the struggles that have characterized the last few weeks. But they mixed in a couple of new tricks that made all the difference in the outcome.
It was clear from the tip—which Chuck O’Bannon Jr. stole from a pair of Wildcats but failed to convert into points due to a solid contest of his shot at the rim—that K-State was committing renewed focus to defensive effort. The Cats challenged passes, crowded ball-handlers, and forced 13 first half turnovers. They only converted those turnovers to 9 points, but the takeaways and a 7-1 advantage on the offensive glass gave the Wildcats a 35-26 advantage in shots taken in the period. Good thing, considering they only made 12 of their 35 attempts (34%), including 4 of 13 from three-point range (31%).
K-State also exhibited greater care with the basketball in the first half, committing only 6 turnovers to TCU’s 13. Unfortunately, sloppiness invaded the second half, and the Cats wound up with 15 turnovers on the night. Considering TCU’s greatest strength is the transition game, taking care of the basketball was key to the outcome. It probably bears noting, as well, that three of those turnovers resulted from offensive foul calls on Keyontae Johnson. Turnovers they were. But at least they were not fastbreak opportunities for the Frogs.
The other unexpected, welcome, wonderful development was the play of unsung bench player Tykei Greene. The athletic but little-used senior was criticized Saturday for fouling Texas guard Sir’Jabari Rice on a three-point attempt right before halftime. Consider Greene redeemed from that momentum-killing mistake.
Playing 21 minutes, Greene scored 13 points off the bench. He was 6-13 from the field, and the total distance from the rim of the shots he made might have been less than two feet. Greene was masterful at getting lost on the back side and flying in to convert lobs into dunks. He also chased down a team-leading 9 rebounds, collected 1 steal, and only turned the ball over once. Greene’s athleticism and hustle made him a major difference-maker for the Cats.
Desi Sills played an aggressive game, as well, attacking the basket (seriously, does every team forget the scouting report? He drives left, guys!) and drawing fouls on the way to 14 points, which included 5-5 free throw shooting. Sills also had 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and a block in his 33 minutes of floor time.
Minutes for Greene and Sills were necessary because—in what has become something of a theme—Keyontae Johnson battled foul trouble early. Teams have keyed on Johnson’s tendency to drive through contact, and they wall up and take charges. His third foul, in the second half, seemed questionable, and it certainly frustrated Johnson, who flirted with a technical by reacting. But the two charges that sent him to the bench in the first 10 minutes of play appeared to be called correctly. Johnson will need to punish teams for cementing themselves in his path by pulling up for open jumpers to avoid playing to the scouting report, which even the officials appear to have read.
Nowell led all scorers with 18 points. He had no rebounds, but contributed 7 assists, 2 steals, and (yes!) a blocked shot. Unfortunately, both he and Johnson committed 6 turnovers, accounting together for all but three of the 15 committed by the entire team.
Despite the long bench stints, Johnson scored 14 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, and threw 2 assists, one of which was a high lob to Greene at the right side of the rim for the most picturesque throwdown of the night. As previously noted, Sills also scored 14 in his stat-stuffing performance, and Green had 13. David N’Guessan made all 4 of his field goal attempts and both of his free throws to score 10. He also took three charges on the evening, contributing to TCU’s ball security woes.
The win avenges K-State’s worst loss, 82-68 in Fort Worth, and hands TCU its largest margin of defeat on the season, eclipsing its 9-point falter to West Virginia in mid-January.
TCU had four players in double figures, led by Damion Baugh, who scored 16.
Three in the Key
- The spiral alert (if there really was one) can take a pause. Renewed attention to defense and early ball security, plus big-time contributions from role players, keyed this victory, ending a three-game skid in league play. With the win, K-State is tied with Kansas for third in the Big 12 at 7-4, behind Texas (8-3) and Iowa State (7-3). The Cyclones face West Virginia in Morgantown Wednesday night.
- Grain of salt time: Yes, the win looks impressive, and no win in the Big 12 should be undervalued. But TCU is a shadow of its former self without point guard Mike Miles Jr., and though matchup nightmare Eddie Lampkin Jr. played tonight, it is clear he is less than fully healed. Had those two been healthy, the outcome would have been markedly more difficult to achieve.
- Potpourri of Kudos: Greene, man. Way to step up big. Hat-tip to Coach Tang and the staff for being true to their word and ensuring a better basketball product was on the floor tonight. But the biggest kudos go to Markquis Nowell, who passed Steven Henson for the K-State season assists record tonight. Nowell now has 187 on the season, one more than the McPherson native who played in my college days, back in the mid-1980s. Seven regular season games remain, plus the post-season. Nowell is going to set a mark that is likely to stand for generations.
The Wildcats will face Texas Tech in Lubbock Saturday at 6 p.m. CST. The game between the teams in Manhattan was close until the final minute. In recent action Tech beat LSU by 8 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge and came from 21 points down to beat Iowa State two games ago, before getting run completely off the floor in Waco Saturday. The Big 12 is just crazy enough that we should expect not to get what we expect.