The Kansas State Wildcats dropped their season opener to the Drake Bulldogs, 80-70, in the first game of the Little Apple Classic in Bramlage Coliseum. Drake finished on a 40-23 kick beginning at the 14:52 mark of the second half to erase what had been a seven-point K-State lead and pull away for the double-digit win.
In spite of the negative final outcome, the Wildcats flashed several positives in the game, Among them:
- Mike McGuirl, K-State’s lone senior and remaining player from the 2019 Big 12 Championship squad, scored a career high 22 points while posting a team-best 22.0 efficiency rating. The career role player looked comfortable in the role of team leader.
- Sophomore DaJuan Gordon scored 15 points while showing an ability to get to the rim and draw fouls.
- Freshman Nigel Pack displayed command of the point guard position, tossing five first-half assists, as well as a quick, consistent stroke from three-point range, where he made 3 of his 5 attempts.
- K-State got contributions up and down the lineup and looks to have a decent ability to substitute without dropping off significantly—except, perhaps, at the point. Rudi Williams was not bad. But neither was he as dynamic as Pack, who looks to have all the tools to be a special player.
So, with all of that good news, how did the Cats lose this game? In short, defensive breakdowns and an air pocket offensively after they claimed a 47-40 lead doomed them. After securing that lead, K-State would score only two points over the next 5:20 of action, while the Bulldogs converted turnovers and empty K-State possessions to lead 50-49 at the eleven-minute mark. The Wildcats would keep it close, and they trailed by only three, 65-62, at the final media timeout with 3:38 to play. But a balanced Drake squad would outscore the Cats 15-8 down the stretch to pull away.
McGuirl’s 22 points and DaJuan Gordon’s 15 were the only double digit efforts for K-State. Ezeagu and Pack contributed nine points each. Antonio Gordon led the way with 7 rebounds.
Drake got 15 points from Garrett Sturtz, 12 from Tremell Murphy, and 10 from ShanQuan Hemphill.
Three in the Key
- It’s a start. Sure, we would have liked to win the game, and we should probably have expected to do so. The pandemic caused K-State to lose valuable preparation time, however, and with six newcomers seeing minutes in the opener and a trio of sophomores expected to shoulder much of the load, it’s tough to imagine any team more poorly positioned to deal with interruptions like that. In the first half we saw flashes of easy offense—something that has been lacking on Bruce Weber’s teams, especially when it was devoid of talented experience. Unfortunately, they were not able to sustain it. But the fact that it is there, and so early in a season that has featured practice interruptions, is a positive.
- Free throws. We could just pencil this one in as a gane-to-game issue. For whatever reason, K-State was atrocious from the free throw line last year, and the problem persists. Though they finished the day at 60 percent (12-20), the Wildcats’ inability to knock down charity tosses when the game was still within reach relieved pressure from the Bulldogs at key moments. Part of the problem was who kept getting to the line. Ezeagu was only 3-8. With his big frame and aggressive nature, he needs to get comfortable on the stripe. He may be there a lot.
- Where is the defense? We would be more concerned if the Cats had been unable to score. At times last year, this team made offensive basketball look really, really hard. There is more offensive potential this year than in the past, especially if we can get Montavious Murphy who did not score today, back to his production benchmarks from last season. Defense has always been a hallmark of Bruce Weber’s teams in Manhattan, though, and with the athleticism of this unit, it should be again. Practice time and film study will correct some of the breakdowns, and for the first time in recent memory, they actually have a couple of players in Ezeagu and Bradford who look capable of covering breakdowns at the rim. One of the more shocking stats of the game: K-State only had three steals. Taking the ball away has been a staple of Wildcat basketball, and getting everyone to settle into their roles should allow McGuirl, Gordon and the tantalizingly athletic Selton Miguel to get aggressive on the ball and in the passing lanes as the season progresses.
Next game: vs. Colorado Friday, November 27, at 7:00 p.m. CST.