One of Jerome Tang’s biggest goals for this season has been for many different Kansas State basketball players to step up and lead the Wildcats to victory in many different games.
He had to be pleased, then, when David N’Guessan had the finest performance of his college career as K-State defeated Abilene Christian 81-64 on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum.
N’Guessan set a new career high by scoring 23 points and grabbing five rebounds. The junior forward picked a good night to be a hero, because the Wildcats needed someone to play at a high level against a pesky opponent that jumped out to a 23-10 lead midway through the first half.
“It feels great,” N’Guessan said. “This is the reason I transferred, to be able to contribute more and help my team win more games. I’m happy I was able to contribute with my team and get the win tonight.”
Abilene Christian made K-State work to win this game. But N’Guessan made sure it happened. K-State pulled ahead by halftime 35-34 and then dominated the second half.
The Wildcats (8-1) are next in action on Sunday when they play host to Incarnate Word.
Until then, here are some key takeaways on Tuesday’s action:
Big night for N’Guessan
Let’s stay with K-State’s leading scorer for a little longer.
The Virginia Tech transfer has come a long way since he arrived in Manhattan as a transfer over the summer. Despite not playing much at the five with the Hokies he has already established himself as the best post player on Tang’s roster. He has started seven games this season and is starting to show his ceiling in a purple uniform.
N’Guessan averaged 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds a year ago, and he rarely reached double digits as a scorer. His previous career high was 15 points.
He is much more active on offense with the Wildcats.
N’Guessan had 16 points at halftime on Tuesday. After scoring eight points against both Butler and Wichita State, he exploded against Abilene Christian. This is what Tang envisioned for him when he recruited him as a transfer.
“He played behind two all-conference guys there,” Tang said. “So it wasn’t that he was a bad player. He was just stuck behind two all-conference guys. In the limited minutes that he played, we saw him do some really good things and thought, ‘Man, if you give him more minutes he could do more of those things.’
“He’s a real mismatch at the five, because he’s so fast. He can outrun fives down the court, he can sprint out of ball screens and he’s starting to feel confidence as a shooter.”
N’Guessan did most of his damage around the basket and went 8 for 8 from two-point range. But he also stepped outside and drained a corner three in the first half. He didn’t miss any shots from the field, but he struggled a bit from the free-throw line (4-of-11 shooting). That prevented him from having an even bigger day.
This was a good matchup for him, as Abilene Christian employs a small lineup and there was rarely a rim-protector in his way as he drove to the basket. Things might not be so easy for him against bigger Big 12 opponents. Still, this game showed his potential.
K-State uses short bench against Abilene Christian
It was surprising to see the Wildcats only use seven players until the final seconds on Tuesday.
Tang usually employs a much deeper bench during games as a way to stay fresh and wear down the opponent. But Tykei Greene and Desi Sills were the only two reserves who made it onto the floor against Abilene Christian.
Part of that can be explained by Abayomi Iyiola wearing a walking boot on his left foot. But it wasn’t immediately clear why he chose not to play Ismael Massoud or Dorian Finister.
Tang later said that both Iyiola and Massoud were out with injuries and are considered “day-to-day.” Finister could have played. In hindsight, Tang thought he probably should have used the freshman guard for at least a few minutes. Finding ways to get him on the floor in the future will be more of a priority moving forward.
Markquis Nowell nearly goes the distance
Using only two players off the bench meant that K-State had to get an abundance of minutes from their starters.
No one was asked to play longer than Markquis Nowell. The senior point guard stayed on the court for 39 minutes of this game and played well under those circumstances, as he finished with 15 points and 12 assists and six rebounds.
It was a far from a perfect game for Nowell, as he took some ill-advised shots in the first half. But he was aggressive as a slasher and he distributed the ball well.
You could tell he picked up his intensity after K-State fell behind early. He clearly didn’t want to lose this game. That motivation nearly propelled him to a triple-double.
ACU took advantage of open three-pointers
It’s been hard for opponents to make many three-pointers against K-State this season.
The Wildcats entered Tuesday’s game allowing teams to shoot just 29.8% from beyond the arc.
But that didn’t stop Abilene Christian from finding open space on the perimeter and knocking down plenty of outside shots, especially in the first half. ACU came out firing and made five of its first seven shots from three-point range to take a 23-10 lead.
Abilene Christian is an above-average team from three, so some of that can simply be explained by its shooters having a hot night. But it is easy for players to get hot when they aren’t facing pressure from a defender.
K-State did a better job defending the three-point line as the game went on, and ACU finished 7 of 19 from beyond the arc. But three-point defense looked like a weakness for K-State at times.
Tang’s team also struggled to shoot the ball from three-point range, making just 3 of 12 from behind the arc.
Big 12 football championship hangover?
The Octagon of Doom was less than half full on Tuesday. Some sections behind each basket were practically devoid of fans.
That came as a bit of a surprise considering better crowds showed up for K-State’s first three home games of the season. Then again, the Wildcats were three days removed from winning a Big 12 football championship in Arlington, Texas, and beating Wichita State in a men’s basketball rivalry.
Maybe fans needed a night off to recover from all that excitement.