Cats escape South Dakota, 64-62

By Joel Jellison

Thomas Gipson thought it was like a bar fight. Kansas State coach Bruce Weber compared it more to something that might come after a fight — a trip to the dentist.

Staff photo by Fran Ruchalski
(Kansas State’s Omari Lawrence fights for a rebound between two South Dakota defenders on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum).

South Dakota gave the Wildcats everything it had on Tuesday, nearly frustrating K-State into a loss on its home court. Despite a poor start and bad free-throw shooting down the stretch, the Wildcats pulled out a 64-62 win in Bramlage Coliseum.

The troubles for K-State started by opening to a 15-4 deficit in the first 11 minutes, and escalated into failing to sustain momentum or consistency before halftime.

The Wildcats (6-3) needed energetic performances from Omari Lawrence and Nigel Johnson off the bench to come back in the second half. And after taking the lead with less than 5 minutes to play, K-State made just 3 of its last 10 free throws as it looked to close out the game.

Weber said he saw a game like this coming after the way the team practiced following a momentum-building win against Ole Miss last week.

“I don’t want dentists to get mad at me, but (this game was like) going to the dentist and getting a root canal, or getting your teeth pulled,” he said. “That’s what it was like, it was very frustrating. You always kind of expect this — I feared it — more than anything. (After) a big emotional win with everyone telling them how good they are after Mississippi.”

The Wildcats trailed 31-26 at halftime, and used an 8-2 run out of the gate to take their first lead since the 18:30 mark of the first half. But the Coyotes just never went away.

K-State needed Lawrence and Johnson to combine for 16 points off the bench in the second half, both sparking the team at separate spots. Lawrence scored seven points in the first 4 minutes of the second half, opening way for Johnson to score seven in the next 2:30.

“To Omari’s credit, he didn’t play much last game, wasn’t a part of all the excitement,” Weber said. “He was a big difference maker for us in the game. In the second half, him and Nigel get 16 points and made some big plays.”

South Dakota (3-6) took a 57-54 lead to cap a 7-2 scoring run late in the game before K-State answered to take the lead for good. Shane Southwell scored and went to the free-throw line, only to miss with a rebound out to Marcus Foster. Southwell would hit a 3-pointer to put the Wildcats up 59-57 with 4:51 to play, and then Thomas Gipson added a basket to push the lead to four.

That’s where things sort of went south for K-State, especially at the foul line. K-State had 10 shots at the free-throw line in the last 4:09, but made just three.

Weber said the free-throw shooting nearly cost them.

“That and the open shots,” he said, “down the stretch Thomas misses two, Shane misses the front end, Omari misses two — now you got to fight for your life.”

Although South Dakota didn’t score a field goal in the last 5:52 of the contest, the game was close enough with four seconds left that Weber decided to foul rather than allow the Coyotes to try to tie the game with a 3.

“I’ve never done it, ever,” Weber said of fouling in the situation. “I don’t know if it’s the right move or not, but I guess we got a win, and that is what’s important.”

The way K-State opened the game it looked like it had plugged in a re-run of the season-opening loss to Northern Colorado. The Wildcats were lifeless, and after taking a 4-2 lead, went scoreless for 8 minutes to trail 15-4.

That’s where Foster turned it around for the Wildcats, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers, followed by free throws from Shane Southwell to cut the deficit to 18-12. Foster hit another 3 to make it a three-point game.

Staff photo by Fran Ruchalski
(Kansas State’s Omari Lawrence fights for a rebound between two South Dakota defenders on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum).

Weber said the slow start was due mostly to bad shooting from the Wildcats, which translated to even worse defense.

“We had four points eight minutes into it, and (Foster) makes three shots in a row to at least get us in reach, but then I warned them, you cannot let offense dictate your defense,” he said. “The guys that were struggling shooting, they didn’t guard and we gave up a whole bunch of points in transition.”

Gipson said if it hadn’t been for Lawrence’s defense in the first and second half, they might not have been able to turn it around.

“We came out dry, people weren’t making shots and that led to us playing bad on defense,” he said. “We dug ourselves a hole. Second half, Omari picked us up on the defensive side and I think that really helped us, sparked us to the comeback.”

Foster led the Wildcats with 18 points, with four 3-pointers, while 14 of his scoring total came in the first half. The freshman guard said he got into a rhythm early as the offense was opening up shots for him.

“They were just going into the screens so I was just really open for those shots, and then they started falling,” he said. “Once I get hot, I get going and I get energized and everybody started picking it up.”

Southwell finished with 17 points and six rebounds, while Gipson added 13 points and eight rebounds. Trevor Gruis, who was 7 of 8 from the field, had 18 points and nine rebounds, to lead South Dakota.

Gipson, who noted he was disappointed with his own personal defensive performance, said it was a game they had to fight to win.

“When we’re in the locker room and we joke around, we usually call this one a bar fight,” he said. “We just had to make the right plays, get stops down the stretch, do the right things on offense. I’d call this one a bar fight.”

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