The Kansas State Wildcats overcame a harsh first half to defeat the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles 55-51 at Bramlage Coliseum on Wednesday.
The Wildcats had a strong start from the opening tip as they jumped out to a 7-0 lead at the under-16 timeout. But after that, the half was rough for K-State.
The Wildcats were haunted with poor shooting performance. K-State shot only 30.8 percent on 26 shots in the first half and missed all nine three-point shots, trailing 31-19 at halftime.
“We weren’t hitting shots in the first half,” senior guard Barry Brown said.
Southern Mississippi shot 42.9 percent on 28 field goals. With that, they were able to get themselves a double-digit lead on top of the K-State’s poor shooting.
The poor shooting continued for the Wildcats through the first four minutes of the second half. Then, things changed when senior guard Kamau Stokes knocked down a jumper with 15:20 remaining. This was the first of 13 straight points for Stokes to bring the Wildcats within five points: 37-32.
Stokes spoke on his spark in the second half.
“I was feeling it,” Stokes said. “And credit to my teammates, they got me open. Screens, we were moving the ball well. I give them a lot of credit for that.”
A fire was lit on the K-State bench and in K-State fans as the momentum of the game continued to go in favor of the Wildcats.
The Wildcats had some defensive intensity as well; the Golden Eagles were held to just eight field goals on 35 attempts and only two three-pointers on 18 attempts in the second half.
Head coach Bruce Weber shared his thoughts on his team’s defense in the second half, saying he feels “relieved” after winning a game like this.
“We defended very well in the second half, we kept them off the line,” Weber said. “You just want to win. You just want to find a way to win.”
Brown made some shots as the Wildcats continued to inch closer to taking the lead. The Wildcats eventually mounted the comeback to a one-point game.
Then, sophomore guard Mike McGuirl converted a layup in transition to give the Wildcats a 38-37 lead with 9:32 remaining. K-State went on a 20-2 run to claim this lead.
K-State was able to maintain its point advantage the rest of the way. The Wildcats achieved their eighth win of the season to make their record 8-2.
With Stokes’ performance, the Wildcats have multiple players that are able to step up and take control of the game. Brown was the guy earlier this season against Denver. Against Southern Mississippi, it was Stokes: He scored a season-high 18 points, 16 of those points in the second half.
Up next for the Wildcats is the Vanderbilt Commodores in the Wildcat Classic at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri, at 6 p.m. Saturday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.