Facing the AP Poll’s No. 13 and 14 ranked teams — Arkansas and Illinois — in the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Missouri, on Nov. 23 and 24, the men’s basketball team was unable to secure a win against the two tough opponents.
Though both contests ended in 72-64 losses for the Wildcats, it was a tale of two games. Arkansas led by as much as 18 points before Kansas State made a late run to make the score closer than the game was.
“If you’ve watched their games,” head coach Bruce Weber said after game one, “they’ve gotten behind to almost every team, even their exhibition, but they came out and attacked us. They were in attack mode. Their pressure was really good. They disrupted us.”
Sophomores Nijel Pack and Selton Miguel led the way against Arkansas for the Wildcats with 14 points each while senior Chris Lykes and junior Conner Vanover each had 14 points for the Razorbacks.
K-State started 7-of-27 from the field and 0-10 from three, which contributed to a 28-11 deficit to start the game. The Wildcats would get the score to 34-21, but Arkansas ended the half on a run that pushed its lead to 42-24.
“There were a couple little plays, finish the layup, make another open three somewhere down the line that could have given us given us a little better chance,” Weber said. “We knew they were going to be good. We knew it would not be easy.”
The Wildcats came out more aggressive in the second half and put up 40 points in the frame, but it wasn’t enough to come back against a well-run Arkansas team. The Razorbacks went on to beat Cincinnati in the Hall of Fame Classic Championship game.
The loss was the first of the season for the Wildcats and primed them for a shot at No. 14 ranked Illinois on Tuesday, Nov. 24.
The storyline coming into the game against the Fighting Illini was a battle of the coaches. K-State’s Bruce Weber served nine seasons as head coach at Illinois, leading them to two Big Ten titles and the national championship game in 2005 before coming to Manhattan. Illinois’ head coach, Brad Underwood, is from McPherson, Kansas, played basketball at K-State from 1984-1986 and was an assistant coach for the Wildcats from 2006 to 2012.
The game against Illinois went better for the Wildcats than the night before, going into halftime with just a three-point deficit at 34-31.
“Well, Arkansas, their pressure is so elite,” Weber said after the Illinois game. “Their quickness and pressure, the way they just almost force you to go make a play. That was part of it. I would say we didn’t do a good job of reading it, being a little more patient. Tonight, a little better execution.”
The Wildcats had the lead with 15 minutes remaining in the contest, but the Illini used seven three-pointers from super-senior Alfonso Plummer and 23 points and 13 rebounds from all-American center Kofi Cockburn to eventually hand K-State its second loss of the season.
“I thought we battled, but you didn’t come here just to battle,” Weber said. “We came up with some good pop at times. The kid [Plummer] comes off the bench and hit seven threes. We don’t make them dribble at all. Credit to him, big shots.”
K-State used the same starting lineup for both games: Pack, Miguel, sophomore Ish Massoud, junior Kaosi Ezeagu and super-senior Mark Smith.
The team gets Thanksgiving off before welcoming North Dakota to Bramlage Coliseum on Sunday, Nov. 28. The game tips off at 4 p.m. and will air on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.