For a team that lost their last 11 games and is historically bad this season, the past two games for the men’s basketball team are promising. Hanging around with No. 7 Texas Tech last Saturday and pushing No. 13 Texas to the absolute brink on Tuesday is something that all Wildcat fans should be intrigued about.
The fact still remains the Wildcats haven’t won a game since Dec. 29, 2020.
Next up is the fourth opponent in a row ranked inside the top 25, No. 23 Oklahoma State — a team Kansas State also hung around with in their last meeting despite the Wildcats down to six scholarship players on their roster.
“You go back to Oklahoma State when we played them the first time, we’re winning with under two minutes in the half with Joe (Petrakis) playing and limited guys,” Bruce Weber said as he previewed the game with the media on Thursday afternoon. “Again, we had a little stretch at the end of the half. We pushed them again in the second half, but then again a little stretch.”
Those little stretches, Weber said, is the difference in the close losses for K-State this year. In the Wildcats’ last two games, those little stretches came at the beginning of the second half, with Texas Tech opening its second half of play on a 15-3 run. Texas opened its on a 19-6 run.
“Will we be a little more consistent to give ourselves a chance?” Weber said.
That’s what it comes down to Saturday if K-State manages to stick with potential top draft pick Cade Cunningham and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. That, and the play of freshman guard Nijel Pack.
Since returning to the court on Jan. 27 against Baylor, Pack made his presence felt as he did in the first half of the season. The 6-foot 180-pound guard leads the Wildcats in scoring in every game since his return, including a career-high 26 points in the K-State’s loss to Texas A&M on Jan. 30.
Pack, along with senior guard Mike McGuirl, are the only players to average double-digit scoring on the season. Even with Pack leading the way, Weber still believes he needs to get the ball in his hands more and take at least 10 shots a game.
“I’m happy. [Pack] is doing what I thought he would do,” Weber said. “I thought he was this good. If you watched him in high school and AAU or whatever it was, he was pretty elite. He was special, and again, I’m really happy he’s done it. If he wouldn’t, we’d be in big trouble. Not that we’re not in trouble anyway, but obviously he’s helped us because of his play.”
Averaging 18.7 points per game, Cunningham recorded double-digit scoring efforts in every single game but one.
That one game? A five-point effort against — you guessed it — K-State.
At that time, K-State played with only six scholarship players as the rest of the team was out because of an injury or COVID-19 precautions.
“I’d be really happy if we could hold him to under 10 again,” Weber said. “I don’t know if that’s possible. He’s gotten better. In the first half, we did a great job on him. We actually played pretty well if you go back and look. We weren’t perfect by any means, but we did a great job of staying compact and took away some of his easy looks.”
Holding Cunningham to just five points wasn’t enough for K-State as junior guard Isaac Likekele picked up Cunningham’s slack and led the Cowboys to a 70-54 victory in Manhattan.
“We’re going to have to do a good job staying in front of [Cunningham], not giving him easy ones and make him earn everything,” Weber said.
Oklahoma State played inconsistently in its last four games, defeating teams like Arkansas and No. 6 Texas, but falling to TCU and Kansas.
Wildcat sophomore guard DaJuan Gordon won’t play on Saturday as he is still dealing with an ankle injury. Gordon contributed greatly in K-State’s last game against the Cowboys, earning a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Saturday morning’s game is set for an 11 a.m. tip off and is televised nationally on ESPNU.