The men’s basketball team (0-2) was within shouting distance.
Even with freshman starting point guard Nijel Pack going down to end the first half, head coach Bruce Weber played an effective, small, damage control lineup to trail by just a point heading into the break.
“We had them on their heels,” Weber said. “And then the intentional foul happened. That was four free throws in a row. But we hung in there. We made some nice plays.”
With Pack returning to start the second half, the outlook looked bright. The Wildcats’ offense looked crisp with him on the floor, he was making shots, and the entire Kansas State team was making shots — until the 13:52 mark. Then the team went cold, not just on offense, but on defense as well.
K-State made just one jump shot in nearly five and a half minutes after sophomore Antonio Gordon hit a three at the 13:52 mark. That’s when Colorado (2-0) star McKinley Wright IV stepped up.
Whether it was a jumper or a drive, Wright was getting a bucket when it mattered. Even with more pressure put on him in the second half, McKinley showed why he was a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award a season ago. He finished with 24 points, five rebounds and five assists on 62.5 percent shooting.
“I thought once we pushed him, he even rose up and took it to a whole other level,” Weber said. “He just made the right plays.”
Pack, who drew the main assignment on Wright, gave the guard his props.
“He’s a great player,” Pack said. “We knew that he would be great, we were doing the best we can to guard him. I give him all his props, he did great and led his team.”
Behind Wright and others, Colorado went on to win the Little Apple Classic matchup 76-58 — completely changing the narrative from the first half when K-State held a 13-point lead. For Weber, he felt like the second half was a different game than the first half.
“I thought the first half it was really good,” Weber said. “Obviously, those free throws make a big difference, but that sustained defense, we have to do that the whole game. Again, they have some really, really good guards. We got to play good defense, sustain it and do it without fouling — and be a little more consistent on the offensive end.”
Weber also said he wants to see more poise on the defensive end in the second half and late in games. On Friday, the Wildcats let the Buffaloes shoot 55.2 percent in the second half, compared to 41.7 percent in the first. They also sent them to the line 13 times in that half.
“When they pushed us, instead of having poise, we didn’t have that discipline to stay down on shot attempts or keep from fouling,” Weber said. “You’ve got to do it the whole game.”
Even with the disappointing half, both Weber and Pack saw the team make strides compared to their opening game loss to Drake on Wednesday. The spurt to start the game showed what promise this young K-State team has, but will come together with more experience.
“I don’t see nothing wrong with us,” Pack said. “We’re still a great team, a young team and we’re still learning. The season is still early and we made a big improvement from our first game against Drake.”
With nine newcomers on the roster, Pack knows efficiency could take some time to build up.
“I feel like we are still trying to get that chemistry,” he said. “We are very new together, but I feel like it’s all there. We trust each other and we are going to trust each other taking great shots. … I think we’ve got to work on that in practice going on now and be able to sustain that for 40 minutes — to become a great team.”
Outside of their defensive struggles, the Wildcats also struggled when Pack is off of the floor. The freshman showcased his play-making ability and impact-fullness through two games, but the team falters when he’s on the bench.
In the first half, when Pack was off the court dealing with an injury, K-State recorded nine of its 13 first-half turnovers, scored just 13 points and had six possessions in which the team forced shots because the shot clock was under 10 seconds. For Pack, he takes it upon himself to help control those swings in the game.
“Just being a better leader — I could see at times that we get separated from each other, and it’s my job to bring us back in,” Pack said. “We have great runs, great moments in the game where we show that great talent that we have and we all know it as a team — but we need to show it. That’s when I feel like I need to bring us back together to go on runs and close out games.”
Pack finished the night as K-State’s leading scorer with 12 points on four-of-eight shooting. Three other Wildcats finished with eight points each – including senior Mike McGuirl who shot just three-of-11 from the field after scoring a career-high 22 points on Wednesday.
Sophomore DaJuan Gordon also struggled shooting, going two-of-seven for four points and missing all four of his three-point attempts.
With the loss, K-State starts the season 0-2 for the first time since the 2002-2003 season — a year in which they finished 13-17 overall under head coach Jim Wooldridge.
K-State looks to snag its first win of the season on Monday when it hosts UMKC. The game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. on ESPNU, with audio through the K-State Sports Network