McGuirl scores career-high 22 points, Wildcats fall to Drake in Little Apple Classic opener

Redshirt sophomore Kaosi Ezeagu corrals the basketball while being pressured by a Drake defender in the Wildcats 80-70 loss to the Bulldogs on Wednesday afternoon in the Little Apple Classic at Bramlage Coliseum. (Photo Courtesy of Scott Weaver | K-State Athletics)

The Wildcats returned to the court for the first time since March in the opening game of the Little Apple Classic at Bramlage Coliseum on Wednesday. The season opener did not go as planned for the Wildcats, as they fell 80-70 to Missouri Valley Conference foe Drake.

“If we want to beat people, we cannot give up 80 points,” Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber said. “We have to be better defensively, and it happens over time.”

The Wildcats had a lot of turnover this season and it showed. K-State has 11 underclassmen on the roster — the sixth most in NCAA Division I Basketball.

Senior Mike McGuirl had a career-high 22 points for the Wildcats, but the young team could not provide the support needed to win. Despite the career-high day, it was the defensive side that got the most emphasis from the senior.

“It’s not about me scoring; it’s not about any one person player scoring, it’s about the team scoring,” McGuirl said. “More than anything, we have to play defense.”

Both teams showed some rust in the first half, struggling to put shots up until the seventh minute of the game. Drake brought more energy early and held the lead for the majority of the opening period.

The Bulldogs went 15-30 from the floor in the first half, led by senior guard Jonah Jackson with nine. The Wildcats finished shooting 46 percent from the floor and 46 percent from beyond the arc. McGuirl led K-State with 11 points while shooting 4-6.

Drake finished the half with a huge momentum shift on an alley-oop from junior guard Roman Penn to senior forward Tremell Murphy to end the half, which gave Drake a 38-36 lead.

K-State did not let the end of the first half affect the second half and opened with an 11-2 run to reclaim the lead for the first time since the 10 minute mark of the first half at 47-40. The Bulldogs took back the lead midway through the half. Drake outscored the Wildcats 20-13 in the final five minutes to seal the victory for the Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs scored plenty off the bench with 26 alone in the first half. Drake ended the afternoon, outsourcing the Wildcat bench 37-15.

“We knew [Jonah] Jackson could shoot, and Garrett Stuertz … He is one of the best cutters, movers without the ball,” Weber said. “The bench really outscored us.”

Turnovers proved to be costly for the Wildcats as the Bulldogs turned the 14 K-State turnovers into 19 points.

“Taking care of the ball, making the right play, it has to be there,” Weber said.

Led by a 15 point, 10 rebound day for junior guard Garrett Sturtz, the Bulldogs finished the afternoon shooting 48 percent from the floor. The free-throw shooting was nearly automatic for Drake, only missing three of the 18 opportunities from the stripe.

The Wildcats finished shooting 45 percent from the floor, led by McGuirl’s 22-point afternoon. Sophomore guard DaJuan Gordon tied a career-high with 15 points. K-State generated 23 second-chance points and 34 in the paint. Led by sophomore forward Antonio Gordon’s seven rebounds, the Wildcats out-rebounded the Bulldogs 36-32.

The Wildcats face off against former Big 12 Conference foe Colorado on Friday in its second game of the Little Apple Classic. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 on ESPNU.