Men’s basketball finds win after rough start against old foe

Nijel Pack attempts a layup against Nebraska during the Wildcat's 67-58 win on Sunday, Dec. 19. (Photo courtesy of K-State Athletics)

The Kansas State men’s basketball team (7-3) took down old Big 8/Big 12 rivals Nebraska (5-7) in the first matchup since 2011. The final score was 67-58 in a late afternoon game at Nebraska on Sunday, Dec. 19.

The Wildcats picked up the win, but the game didn’t start out too well for head coach Bruce Weber’s squad. Six minutes into the game, the Huskers led 17-9. Five minutes later, Nebraska had pushed that lead out to 25-15 before K-State started to turn things around.

“We all knew there’s going to be games where we make shots — there’s going to be games where we can’t make shots, but we have to go somewhere,” sophomore Nijel Pack said. “We applied some defensive pressure and the bigs stepped up.”

Over the next nine minutes, K-State used an 18-2 run to capture all the momentum — and the lead — going into the half at 33-27.

The second half started much like the first, with Nebraska going on a 9-0 to take a 36-33 lead. The two teams battled back-and-forth over the next ten minutes, neither team taking more than a three-point advantage until the Wildcats started pulling away with seven minutes left in the game.

Some late-game struggles narrowed K-State’s lead to four with 2:41 left, but the Wildcats hit some big free-throws to finish the game at 67-58.

Leading the way in scoring for K-State was Pack with 15 points, while sophomore Ish Massoud joined Pack in double-digits with 10.

Starters for the night were Pack, Massoud, super-senior Mark Smith and juniors Markquis Nowell and Kaosi Ezeagu. This was the first night that Pack and Nowell — the team’s two leading scorers — were featured in the starting lineup together.

“It was a great feeling to be on the court together.” Pack said. “We always go at each other in practice, so it was nice to be on his team.”

Nowell didn’t have as good a night as Pack, however. Nowell finished with four points on 2-11 shooting, including 0-5 from three. The Wildcats as a whole shot poorly behind the arc at a 23 percent clip to go along with 19 turnovers.

“Obviously, it wasn’t a good start,” Weber said of starting Pack and Nowell together. “We’ll see. It’s not our best defensive lineup, but I think it’s our best offensive lineup. Play well, and you’ll stay in the game.”

Defense is what gave the Wildcats the win. They kept the Huskers from making a three-pointer after starting out 5-9, holding them to 5-28 on the night. The Wildcats also forced 17 turnovers.

“They started out the game 5-9 … we settled down, protected the paint and that was the key against them … no matter where we are, we have to get our hands up and make it a little bit harder for the shooter,” Weber said.

The Leading scorer for the Huskers was senior Alonzo Verge Jr. with 21 points, while freshman Bryce McGowens had 14.

For K-State, Smith finished with six points and Ezeagu with nine. Off the bench, super-senior Mike McGuirl had five and sophomores Selton Miguel had seven, Davion Bradford had nine and Luke Kasubke had two.

“My quote of the week was, ‘If you’re not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you’re willing to learn, no one can stop you,'” Weber said.

The men’s basketball team has a quick turn-around against McNeese State at home at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 21. Catch the game on Big 12 Now on ESPN+, with a recap on the Collegian after the game.