Men’s basketball claws back to beat Texas

Then-junior guard Mike McGuirl charges the basket against Texas in Bramlage Coliseum on Feb. 22, 2020. (Archive photo by Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

The Kansas State men’s basketball team took down its second-straight ranked Big 12 opponent on Tuesday, Jan. 18, beating No. 23 Texas in a 66-65 nail-biter.

With 3:30 left in the game, the Wildcats (10-7, 2-4) were down 60-65 against the Longhorns. A pair of clutch buckets from sophomore guard Nijel Pack — along with two made free throws from junior guard Markquis Nowell — put the Wildcats ahead 66-65 with 12 seconds remaining.

On the final play of the game, Texas’ Marcus Carr drove to the basket, took a step back and shot over Pack. The ball bounced off the rim, the backboard and the rim again before landing in the arms of senior guard Mark Smith. In just four days, K-State knocked off two nationally-ranked teams after beating No. 19 Texas Tech on Saturday, Jan. 15.

The Wildcats were led all game by Smith, leading the team in points (22) and rebounds (8). The Missouri transfer was aggressive on the court from the get-go and was a vital part of K-State’s late resurgence.

“I just felt like with the switches I had on me that I can really attack the basket. And I’ve really been doing a better job of playing under control and getting to my spots on the floor,” Smith said. “So that’s what I kept trying to do and just kept attacking the basket, and I felt like I could get downhill when I wanted to.”

K-State struggled at the start of conference play, largely because of the number of players and coaches out because of COVID protocols. Head coach Bruce Weber missed multiple games, replaced by assistant coaches Shane Southwell and Jermaine Henderson.

Now that the team is back together, head coach Bruce Weber believes there is a high ceiling for this squad.

“I think the biggest thing above all is that our players have taken ownership of our team, and a player-driven team is much better than a coach-driven team,” Weber said. “The good leadership by Mike McGuirl, Mark Smith. I think Ish [Massoud] has been a good vocal leader. Markquis [Nowell] and then even Nijel [Pack], slowly but surely, is speaking up. We’re guarding people. They had to learn. They had to figure it out. You tell them a lot of things, but sometimes you gotta go through it. And they found out this league is tough and you got to guard and be tough. If you do that, it gives you a chance, and we’re starting to make good basketball plays on the offensive end, which is important.”

Even though the Wildcats have taken down two ranked opponents this past week, they face their biggest rival and potentially biggest challenge this season when they face off against No. 7 Kansas this Saturday.

“We’re starting to be the team that we believe we could be from the start, but it’s just a start. Long season, long grind and quick turn around,” senior guard Mike McGuirl said. “We play one of the best teams in the country on Saturday, so it’s about being ready for the next one.”

K-State is led in scoring by Pack (15.5 ppg), Nowell (12.0 ppg) and Smith (11.3 ppg), and will look to beat Kansas for just the fourth time in the past twenty matchups. The Wildcats’ most recent win over the Jayhawks came on Feb. 5, 2019, when the Barry Brown Jr. led Wildcats won 74-67.

The 295th meeting of the Dillon’s Sunflower Showdown will take place at 3 p.m. in Bramlage Coliseum and will air on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.