Pack’s big game ends with heartbreaker, men’s basketball falls to Iowa State

Nijel Pack with the ball against Iowa State on Feb. 26, 2022. (Elizabeth Sandstrom | Collegian Media Group)

Despite 32 points from sophomore Nijel Pack, Kansas State men’s basketball (14-14, 6-10) couldn’t complete the comeback against Iowa State (20-9, 7-9) in a 73-74 loss on Saturday, Feb. 26.

Things looked bright for the Wildcats in the beginning. A 13-2 run to start the game — highlighted by eight points from Pack — gave the crowd hope in a K-State team that has been in close game after close game this season.

Then, fans were brought back to reality. Kansas native Caleb Grill came into the game for the Cyclones and connected on four three-pointers in the first half. Teamed with Izaiah Brockington’s 11 points and Tyrese Hunter’s eight assists, Iowa State turned an 11-point deficit into a five-point lead with two minutes in the half. K-State would bring it back down, trailing 35-37 at halftime.

After a back-and-forth first few minutes, Iowa State found momentum and jumped out to a 15-point lead with 11 minutes to go. Back-to-back three-pointers and an Ish Massoud steal-and-slam forced Iowa State to call a timeout. K-State cut the lead down to only two points with five minutes to play before, once again, things turned sour.

The Cyclones preceded to go on an 11-1 run, and with the score at 58-70 with only two minutes to play, some fans started leaving their seats for the parking lot. Those fans missed out because the Wildcats still had a few tricks up their sleeve.

Markquis Nowell hit four free throws to cut the lead to eight after the K-State defense caused a turnover on a five-second out-of-bounds call. After trading a couple of points, the Wildcat defense caused the penalty again.

Iowa State head coach T. J. Otzelberger was livid with the calls, and after Nowell hit two more free throws to cut the lead to six with a minute to play, Otzelberger was forced to call a timeout.

Out of the timeout, Brockington tried to sail a pass down court to Gabe Kalscheur, but Nowell intercepted the ball and was fouled by Kalscheur in the process. Nowell hit two more free throws, cutting the lead to two with 49 seconds remaining.

K-State decided to play out the defensive possession, and Iowa State decided to run the shot clock all the way down. Grill offered up a deep three before time expired, and a long rebound came out of bounds to Nowell. Nowell tried calling timeout as he jumped out of bounds to save possession.

After minutes of discussion, the refs determined that an inadvertent whistle was blown, which meant the Wildcats got the ball, down two, with 16 seconds on the clock. With Pack already with 29 points, it was his time to shine.

The opportunity, however, was lost, as Pack turned the ball over with four seconds remaining after losing his dribble. Free throws from the Cyclones and a half-court buzzer-beater from Pack presented the final score, 73-74.

“I mean, it’s tough to lose that way,” Pack said. “Everybody trusted me at the end. We made a good comeback with it. I got to be better with the ball. That’s all I’ve got to say.”

Pack finished with 32 points on 11-15 shooting and 6-9 from behind the arc. Nowell offered 16 points and six rebounds of assistants, and Mark Smith provided 12 points and nine rebounds.

“Their heart, their effort, they care and they could’ve easily given in today, and they didn’t,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “We had a chance at the end, we had the ball and down two.”

Grill led Iowa State in scoring with 18 as all of his points came from threes, which he shot 6-10. Brockington finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, and Hunter nearly completed a triple-double with 13 points, ten assists and seven rebounds.

The loss means K-State will likely have to win the Big 12 tournament to make it to the NCAA tournament as the Wildcat’s bubble odds are looking slim-to-none.

K-State is back in action at No. 9 Texas Tech at 8 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 28, in their final road test of the season. The game will air on ESPN2.