In a physical, at times chippy game, Marquette’s offensive talent ultimately proved too much for Kansas State, who fell at home to the Golden Eagles, 73-65, on Saturday night. K-State can also blame its customary offensive fits and starts, low-scoring first half, and recurrent poor free throw shooting for coming up short.
The loss brings a 33-game home winning streak in non-conference games to an end. Of course, the Cats have not played many (if any) teams the caliber of Marquette in that streak, which traced to 2014.
The start looked momentarily promising, though the season theme of first half offensive struggles asserted itself again. After opening the game with a Makol Mawien three-pointer and leading 5-3 four minutes in, K-State would score only two points over the next 5:04 to fall behind 14-5. The Wildcats would battle to within three points twice and within one on another occasion during the contest. But each time, Marquette would stage a run to extend its lead again.
The run that set the tone occurred after the Cats had pulled within 16-13 at the 9:08 mark of the first half, only to see the Golden Eagles stage a 10-3 burst to grab a double-digit lead. In the final three minutes of the first half, the visitors used a 9-1 surge to turn a 30-25 lead into a 39-26 halftime advantage.
K-State shot a miserable 9-34 from the field in the first half (3-11 from three), and backed up their shooting inefficiency from the field with a tepid 5-12 effort from the foul line. But perhaps the most frustrating stat was a paltry six second-chance points, even though the Wildcats managed to snare 10 offensive rebounds in the frame. Tips and put-back tries simply would not fall, and K-State had only four points in the paint at the break.
The Wildcats did not roll over, however. With renewed energy in the second half they closed the gap to 45-44 after some nifty post moves secured a bucket for Levi Stockard. But Marquette would score the next seven points to pull away again. After K-State got back within three at 52-49, the Golden Eagles would ride another 7-0 run to push their lead back to double-digits.
K-State focused its defensive game plan on holding scoring phenom Markus Howard in check. They hounded him into difficult shots early, though he connected on a couple of contested threes to start the game that were the result of talent, and not of K-State breakdowns. Howard finished with 19 points, albeit on only 6-for-16 shooting. Unfortunately, even when Howard was sidelined with foul trouble his team seemed more than capable of keeping K-State at a distance, and even of extending the lead. It did not help that Xavier Sneed was battling foul trouble of his own for K-State.
Also detrimental to K-State’s cause was Diarra picking up his fourth foul when he contacted the face of a Marquette player while attempting to get over what should have been called an illegal screen. Diarra, who led the team with 14 points and five assists, and who was second on the team with eight rebounds, sat briefly and could not play as aggressively down the stretch as the Cats tried to mount a comeback.
Though the Wildcats did a better job on Howard than they did last year, they repeatedly lost track of Jamal Cain, who scored 17 off the bench and may have been the biggest difference-maker in the game. Some overplays and shoddy rotations also led to uncontested dunks and three-point attempts for Marquette, which finished 12-22 beyond the arc after starting a torrid 8-12.
K-State’s best chance to win the game came at the charity stripe, where they enjoyed a massive 30-16 advantage in attempts. But after connecting only 18-30, the opportunity went for naught.
The game was a physical contest between two athletic squads, and it was not always friendly. Things got particularly intense when K-State’s Antonio Gordon got into a scrum for a loose ball in the lane and Marquette’s Koby McEwen first pushed his way into the pile and then took offense to something and started after Gordon, looking furious and having to be restrained by a referee. After a protracted video review the officials called a jump ball, assessing no penalties for either Gordon or McEwen’s emotional outbursts.
Mawien and Sneed scored 11 apiece, and Dajuan Gordon had 10 to join Diarra in double-figures for the Wildcats. K-State made only 20-62 shot attempts (32.3%).
Three in the Key
- Amid the frustration, you can also see flashes of why K-State could turn out to be pretty good, if the team can only develop some consistency and avoid scoring droughts. When they attacked aggressively and under control, the Wildcats found open shots. Diarra broke down two perimeter defenders and tossed one of his five assists to DaJuan Gordon for a picture-perfect in-rhythm three. On an inbounds play, Gordon got his defender to overplay an expected cut off a screen, then streaked down the lane for an easy lay-up. Diarra even found his deep touch, for a time, though he finished 2-6 from outside. Against a less lethal offensive team (or with better free-throw efficiency) the effort might have been enough. But, alas. ‘Tis the season of ifs-and-buts, candy-and-nuts.
- Among the head-scratching stats of the game, K-State won the turnover battle 18-10 and managed 10 steals. Yet the squad managed only 14 points off those turnovers and had only four fastbreak points all evening. For a team that struggles so mightily to score in offensive sets, transition points are crucial. The Cats must find a way to manufacture more easy buckets off their defensive play.
- A shout-out goes to Levi Stockard for his effort in the second half. In one flurry, he drew an offensive foul, then scored through contact on the other end (though he missed the free throw) and extended the next possession with a tough offensive rebound (though the Cats wasted the possession with a shot-clock violation). Stockard will never be a stat-stuffer. But if he can finish the shots he’s supposed to and give you two or three hustle plays per appearance, he can be a useful role-player for the Wildcats.
K-State meets Alabama State at 7:00 CST on Wednesday, December 11 in Bramlage Coliseum.