K-State pulled off a 64-62 win over the University of South Dakota to move to 6-3 on the season, knocking the Coyotes to 3-6. The win was a sloppy one, as the Wildcats continued to struggle shooting the ball and had trouble in the paint.
“As a coach, you hope you play better,” head coach Bruce Weber said after the game. “I don’t know if I expected it, but I feared it more than anything. Big emotional win, everyone telling them how good they are after Mississippi and lots of hype, and then this team.”
South Dakota sat back on defense and forced K-State to make shots outside and try to push it inside, where they were waiting. It was hard for the Wildcat guards to penetrate the Coyotes’ wall of bodies to score.
“With the packed defense, they kind of just sit back. They kind of dare you; they get you out of rhythm.” Weber said. “It bothered everyone.”
K-State struggled out of the gate, falling into an early 15-4 rut before guard Marcus Foster came through yet again for the team this season. The freshman from Wichita Falls, Texas nailed three quick threes to give the Wildcats some fire and put them back in the game.
“We came out dry,” junior forward Thomas Gipson said after the game. “We came out short. People were making shots, and that led to us playing bad on defense. We dug ourselves into a hole and in the second half, Omari [Lawrence] came out and got started and picked us up on that and on the defensive side.”
The Wildcats went into halftime with a 31-26 deficit, and only three players scored for K-State in the half: Foster, senior guard Shane Southwell, and Gipson.
The second half provided a bit of a revival for K-State, especially through the play of senior guard Omari Lawrence, who came alive with nine points and two steals in the half, and freshman guard Nigel Johnson, who added seven points and three assists. Perhaps most importantly, after 11 turnovers and four assists in the first half, the team had 10 assists and just two turnovers in the second half.
“To Omari’s credit, he didn’t play much last game, wasn’t part of all the excitement, and he was a big difference maker for us in the game,” Weber said of the Lawrence’s effort.
Foster led the team with 18 points, thanks to 4-9 from beyond the arc, but he was 6-20 shooting overall. Southwell added 17 points and six rebounds, while Gipson put up 13 and eight inside.
The team struggled to shoot as a whole, hitting just over 32 percent of their shots in the first half and just over 38 for the entire game.
“We haven’t shot well all year, so I’m hoping it’ll come sometime,” said Weber.
Even more disturbing was the free throw shooting, something that has plagued the team for years now. The Wildcats hit just 10-20 free throws, including an embarrassing 3-11 in the last five minutes, when the game was on the line. If the team could have hit even just a few more of those easy shots from the line, the game would not have been nearly as close at the end.
“Down the stretch, Thomas [Gipson] misses two, Shane [Southwell] missed his front end, Omari [Lawrence] misses two, I dont know who else, somebody else might have missed,” said Weber. “Now you have to fight for your life.”
Notably absent from the scoring column was senior Will Spradling, one of the team’s key leaders and the main point guard this season so far. Spradling played 26 scoreless minutes, adding four rebounds and three assists on the evening.
“He’s our most experienced guy; he’s been through it,” Weber said. “I think he’s put a lot of pressure on himself. I yelled at him at halftime. I hadn’t yelled at him probably since I got here…He’s got to be better than that.”
South Dakota’s leading scorer Brandon Bos was mostly silent, with just four points in 31 minutes, all of which came from free throws, but senior center Trevor Gruis more than made up for Bos’ down night. Gruis delivered inside, playing all 40 minutes with 18 points, nine rebounds, and three blocks. Gruis proved a huge matchup problem for Gipson all night inside and had his way offensively for much of the game.
Despite the less-than-desirable play, a win is a win for the Wildcats who walk away with their fourth straight. K-State will try for five in a row this Sunday against Troy at 5 p.m. in Bramlage, a last chance to get out before finals consume the lives and happiness of students next week.