Exactly one week ago the men’s basketball team (3-4) was dominated by an NCAA Division II school at home and things looked bleak for the Wildcats 2020-2021 season. But on Tuesday night, Kansas State flipped a switch and looked like a completely different team, defeating Iowa State in the earliest Big 12 Conference opener in team history, 74-65.
“A week ago Tuesday, it was not a very good day, they came together (though),” head coach Bruce Weber said. “If going through the loss last week brings our team together, I’ll take all the criticism, I’ll take all the gruff. We just realized we’ve got to do what we do, I just thought it was such a good team win.”
After the team’s newcomers shined in the Wildcats’ victory over Milwaukee on Friday night, it was the newcomers again who wrote the story in Ames, Iowa. Freshman forward Davion Bradford was dominant, scoring 14 points, while two other new faces scored double digits — sophomore forward Carlton Linguard Jr. and junior guard Rudi Williams both finished with 10 points.
It was sophomore guard DaJuan Gordon who really had himself a night against Iowa State. Gordon recorded his first career double-double, scoring 15 points and collecting 11 rebounds.
“This game, [Gordon] did everything, all the little things that made a difference,” Weber said. “That’s a big step in maturity for him, I’m happy for him. He’s gotta do what he does, he’s gotten better. … He’s just got to keep playing like that and he’ll be successful.”
While K-State did not shoot lights, going 44 percent from the field, compared to Iowa State’s 48 percent shooting, the Wildcats dominated in free throws. K-State had 29 free throw attempts, making 26 of them. Five of the six Wildcats who shot from the charity stripe were perfect on the night.
“It’s unbelievable if you look at the Wisconsin-Milwaukee game we were 10 for 18,” Weber said.
At the start, it looked like the game was bound to be a back-and-forth battle, with each team trading baskets. That all changed when K-State decided to play its best minutes of the season. The Wildcats distanced themselves from the Cyclones thanks to a 13-0 run that began at the 12:35 mark and lasted until there was 8:42 left in the first half, putting K-State up 26-14.
After that, Iowa State slowly crept back into things, going on a 10-4 run of its own and getting within six points of the Wildcats. But then it was all K-State in the final five minutes, going on a 10-2 run to take a 40-26 lead into the break.
Turnovers and second-chance points are what helped the Wildcats get distance in the first half, forcing the Cyclones to give away the ball 13 times. While K-State turned over the ball 11 times, the Wildcats were the ones who took advantage, scoring 16 points off turnovers compared to the Cyclones’ six.
K-State dominated underneath the glass on offense as well, recording 17 rebounds and scoring 11 second-chance points, while Iowa State didn’t have a single second-chance point in the first half.
The second half was almost like a completely different game. Both teams struggled more from the field and sometimes just couldn’t buy a shot. K-State finished the half shooting 36 percent from the field, while Iowa State shot 44 percent.
“It’s a tense game, it’s a Big 12 game, it’s a fight, it’s a brawl,” Weber said. “I thought we had some open [shots], they thought they had some open [shots] too but again we did all the little things that made the difference.”
The Cyclones managed to make a late push to get the game down to a single-digit deficit in the final five minutes, but K-State continued to answer each time Iowa State gained any momentum. Free throws were critical for the Wildcats down the stretch, hitting 16 of 19 in the second half.
A three from Iowa State’s junior guard Tyler Harris decreased the deficit to seven points with a little over 1:30 to go, but K-State closed it out to win its Big 12 Conference opener, 74-65.
K-State finished the night shooting 44 percent from the field and recorded 24 points off 18 Iowa State turnovers. The Wildcats also out-rebounded the Cyclones 35-25, leading to 14 second-chance points compared to the Cyclones’ two.
While the victory on Tuesday night helped the Wildcats bounce back after a tough non-conference slate, it won’t get any easier for K-State as they prepare to face the No. 2 Baylor Bears (4-0) at home at 3 p.m. on Saturday. That game, however, remains uncertain as the Bears have paused all team activities because of COVID-19 problems.