By Cole Manbeck
Four years ago, I sat on press row of Kansas State’s NCAA Tournament game in Salt Lake City and watched Xavier, trailing by 3 points, hit three free throws to tie the game with 5 seconds left to send the game to overtime. I wasn’t sure K-State could overcome the deflating blow. Then, in overtime, with K-State leading by 3 once again, Xavier’s Jordan Crawford buried a 3 from 30 feet out to send the game to a second overtime. At that point, I was almost positive the Wildcats wouldn’t be able to overcome what seemed like two demoralizing blows. But they did, defeating Xavier 101-96 and advancing to the Elite 8.
Which brings me to Monday’s game vs. Kansas. K-State led by 9 points with 1:46 remaining in regulation. The Wildcats made crucial mistakes down the stretch as the Jayhawks managed to send the game to overtime on Andrew Wiggins’ tip-in with 6 seconds left. That type of collapse late can suck the energy out of the building – and the team. It felt like a punch to the stomach.
As the game went to overtime, I thought to myself that K-State was done. KU had all the momentum. Shane Southwell was out with an injury. Omari Lawrence was battling cramps. Marcus Foster was playing through an ankle injury as well as cramps. And Nino Williams and Wesley Iwundu each had four fouls. K-State was beat up physically, and the late comeback KU made in regulation is more often than not mentally deflating for a team. Yet the Wildcats fought through the adversity to win 85-82.
“Give them credit, that’s kind of deflating the way we came back against them,” KU coach Bill Self said. “But (K-State) responded well in overtime and had guys step up and make some really nice plays.”
Self knows how deflating this situation can be for opponents. Consider this stat: dating back to 2009, KU was 7-0 in overtime games (not counting the NCAA Tournament). Taking it back farther, the Jayhawks were 11-1 in regular-season overtime games since 2006. When Self’s teams make comebacks late and get the game to overtime, they almost always win.
It would have been easy for K-State to cave in. But the Wildcats brought the fight to KU. The Jayhawks landed a couple punches in overtime, but K-State punched back. It takes a special mindset to be able to do that. K-State was the tougher team and it simply played harder than KU.
Marcus Foster was special, scoring 20 points. Will Spradling was tremendous, scoring 15 points. The senior guard led the Wildcats with six rebounds, three steals and five assists.
But this was a complete team effort. Omari Lawrence had 9 points and two steals. D.J. Johnson scored 9 points on 4-of-5 shooting and blocked two shots. All 9 of Johnson’s points came in the final 11:14 of the game (including overtime). Nigel Johnson played 14 minutes, scoring 4 points, forcing a couple key KU turnovers and added three assists to go along with zero turnovers. Wesley Iwundu was held scoreless until the 1:53-mark of the second half. He scored 6 points in the final 6:53 of the game (including overtime). All nine Wildcats who set foot on the court played a key part, as K-State outscored KU 30-26 on bench points.
Now, let’s analyze just how effective K-State was on Monday: KU entered the game leading the Big 12 in field-goal percentage offense, making 50.3 percent of its shots. That number ranked No. 3 in the country. The Wildcats, who have the best field-goal percentage defense in the Big 12, held KU to just 42 percent from the floor. That’s the second-worst field-goal percentage for KU in a Big 12 game this season. The previous low was at Texas (39 percent), the Jayhawks’ only other Big 12 loss.
K-State entered Monday’s game leading the Big 12 in 3-point percentage defense, and it showed why against KU. The Jayhawks made just 3-of-17 from beyond the arc. KU entered the game shooting 37 percent from 3, but made just 17.6 percent against K-State, which is the worst shooting performance for KU all season from beyond the arc. Take away Conner Frankamp’s meaningless 3 at the buzzer, and KU was just 2-of-16 from 3 (12.5 percent). It was not only the worst performance from a percentage standpoint from 3 for KU all season, but the three made 3s were the fewest KU has made in a game all season.
KU’s three best 3-point shooters on the season coming into Monday were: Wiggins (36 percent), Naadir Tharpe (45 percent) and Wayne Selden (37 percent). Those three combined to go 1-of-12 (8 percent) from beyond the arc. Wiggins didn’t even make a field goal until the 12:47-mark of the second half.
K-State held KU to 1.08 points per offensive possession. That’s not great, but it’s not bad, either, considering the quality of the opponent. The Jayhawks were averaging 1.14 points per possession on the season and 1.18 points per possession in Big 12 play. So K-State held them well below their average. Again, if you take away the 3 by Frankamp at the buzzer, K-State held KU to 1.04 points per possession.
K-State was tremendous on offense. If we were using old-school stats, I would say the Wildcats’ 85 points was the most points allowed by KU in a game all season. And that’s true. But that includes 5 extra minutes of action with overtime. This is another reason why we use pace of play and advanced stats. K-State averaged 1.13 points per offensive possession on Monday. That’s the fourth-best performance of any team this season against KU in terms of offensive efficiency. Both Toledo and Texas averaged 1.17 points per possession against KU, while Oklahoma averaged 1.15 points per possession against the Jayhawks. K-State came into Monday averaging 1.05 points per possession, so it far exceeded its normal average.
The Wildcats were particularly good on offense in the second half and in overtime. In its final 43 possessions (second half plus overtime), K-State scored 56 points, an average of 1.30 points per possession. That’s outstanding.
The Wildcats attacked the one area no one thought they had an advantage in – the paint. KU entered Monday night outscoring teams 36-26 per game on points in the paint. KU had only five games this year where it was either outscored in the paint or the opponent scored the same amount of points in the paint as the Jayhawks.
K-State scored 38 points in the paint on Monday to match the 38 points scored by KU. The 38 points tied for the second-most points scored in the paint against KU all season (Duke scored 42, Iowa State scored 38). However, 6 of the Wildcats’ points in the paint came in overtime. Therefore, they scored 32 points in the paint in regulation time, which is still solid.
With Joel Embiid playing limited minutes, the Wildcats took advantage, attacking inside early and often in the second half and in overtime. In the game’s final 25 minutes, K-State made 19 shots overall from the floor. Five of the Wildcats’ field-goal makes in the second half and in overtime came on 3-pointers. K-State’s other 14 field-goal makes all came in the paint. In other words, K-State didn’t settle for the mid-range jumper. Instead, the Wildcats repeatedly attacked inside. Overall, 19 of K-State’s 22 2-point field goal makes in the game came in the paint.
K-State made 30-of-61 shots from the floor, which equates to 49.2 percent. That is the second-best shooting performance against KU all season, second only to Duke, which shot 51.7 percent against KU in the second game of the season. K-State shot 59 percent from the floor in the game’s final 25 minutes, making 19-of-32 (59 percent) from the floor.
The Wildcats made 8-of-15 from 3 in the game, which equates to 53.3 percent. That marks the second-best shooting performance a team has had from 3 against KU all season, second only to Toledo, which shot 56 percent against KU (9-of-16) in a 93-83 loss. K-State didn’t settle for bad 3s, either. Last season, K-State attempted 30 3s against KU in Bramlage Coliseum, making only nine of them as it lost 59-55.
The bottom line is the Wildcats made shots, played extremely hard and didn’t play afraid. They weren’t intimidated by KU and the names on the front of its jerseys. In the past, K-State teams often looked timid early on in this rivalry game. But K-State got off to a strong start, and while KU made a couple of runs, the Jayhawks never led by more than 2 points in the entire game. K-State always had an answer. The Wildcats outplayed the 7th-ranked team in the country. Two days earlier, they outplayed the 15th-ranked team in the country.
And to think, I thought this would be a rebuilding year with the hopes of getting an NIT bid. Goodness, how wrong could I have been?