Three takeaways from Kansas State’s come-from-behind victory over Wichita State

·5 min read
Travis Heying/AP

The Kansas State men’s basketball team made a series of clutch plays to pull away from Wichita State for a 65-59 victory that sent the Wildcats into a state of euphoria on Sunday at Intrust Bank Arena.

Wichita State jumped out to an early 17-5 lead and appeared to be too much for K-State to handle while playing without leading scorer Nijel Pack, who missed the game with a concussion. But the Wildcats fought back and turned it into a back-and-forth contest until they took control late.

“It was a really good win for our guys,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “It’s a young season and we have really grown and gotten better. We can have a happy bus ride back to Manhattan.”

An 8-0 run by the Wildcats in the final two minutes made all the difference.

K-State got that pivotal sequence started with a deep three-pointer from Markquis Nowell that gave the Wildcats a 57-54 lead with 1:33 remaining. Next, Nowell drew a charge on the other end of the floor that sent him to the free-throw line for two shots, both of which he made. Then Mark Smith got the ball on a fast break and threw down a transition dunk. Selton Miguel finished off the run with a free throw.

That made the score 62-54 and there wasn’t enough time for Wichita State to mount a comeback. For a few brief moments, it sounded like there was more purple than black or yellow in the building.

K-State (5-2) wildly celebrated the victory, one of its biggest since winning the Big 12 championship in 2019.

“That puts a little more respect on our name,” K-State center Kaosi Ezeagu said. “That’s all we asked for, a little more respect. That’s what we got today. We’ll keep moving forward and pushing forward. It’s only one of many.”

Wichita State (6-2) lost its second game of the year and left the arena feeling like it let down a good crowd.

Nowell led the Wildcats with 16 points and Kaosi Ezeagu had 14 points down low. Miguel finished with 12 points. Morris Udeze led all scorers with 19 points.

Here are some key takeaways from the game.

Getting by without Pack

The Wildcats had to deal with adversity before Sunday’s game started.

Pack took an elbow to the face during a practice on Saturday and was later diagnosed with a concussion. He was unable to pass the team’s concussion protocol before opening tip and Weber said he watched the game from the team’s hotel with the lights off in his room.

It is unclear when he will be able to play again for the Wildcats, but Weber said it could happen in time for their next game against Marquette on Wednesday.

K-State seemed to be at a serious disadvantage without the sophomore guard, who is averaging 15.8 points this season.

Weber had to figure out a way to get by without him for 40 minutes in front of a loud crowd.

Nowell took his place in the starting lineup and played admirably. The Arkansas-Little Rock transfer scored 16 points, grabbed eight rebounds and sent out four assists. The Wildcats clearly missed Pack, but they found a way to win without him.

K-State players said they dedicated the victory to Pack and hope he returns to the floor healthy in the near future.

“We knew what the circumstances were, but we didn’t put our heads down without Nijel,” Nowell said. “We needed him, but we felt his energy in spirit. We had a next-man-up mentality and we did a good job producing today.”

Rowdy rivalry renewal

After 18 years without a single men’s basketball game between K-State and Wichita State, one thing is for sure: The fans are glad it’s back.

A near sellout crowd of 14,488 yelled with enthusiasm from the opening tip to the final buzzer.

With a solid mixture of black, yellow and purple in the stands, there was plenty of noise after every basket. Wichita State enjoyed an obvious crowd advantage, but it was far from a true road environment for K-State. Imagine a thousand or so K-State fans following the Wildcats to a game at Hilton Coliseum against Iowa State. That’s what this felt, and sounded, like.

Coaches on both sides said they thought renewing this rivalry was going to be good for basketball in the Sunflower State. That’s hard to argue against after Sunday.

Wichita State’s Isaac Brown said it was one of the best crowds he could remember coaching in front of.

“I thought it was great,” Weber said. “Obviously, it helps to have some of our fans here yelling. There were a couple times where it was really loud on their part. I was trying to communicate and I couldn’t. Then we came down and made a play and it was loud on our part. It was fun. It was a good environment.”

K-State and Wichita State will play at least three more times with future games scheduled for Koch Arena, Bramlage Coliseum and T-Mobile Center in Kansas City.

Those games should all be fun if this was any indicator.

Surprising contributions from Kasubke

Sophomore guard Luke Kasubke was one of K-State’s unsung heroes on Sunday.

He came off the bench to score eight important points in 10 minutes of action. His biggest shot came on a corner three in the first half that gave the Wildcats their first lead of the afternoon. But he also made another three and attacked the basket to get some easy points near the rim.

Those were plays we haven’t previously seen out of Kasubke, and they helped the Wildcats win a meaningful game without Pack in the lineup and players like Ismael Massoud and Smith struggling to find their shot.

Perhaps we are starting to see him realize some of his potential.

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