Cats hang on to edge Ole Miss

By Joel Jellison

Kansas State had been in games like this before, but they didn’t go the right way.

Staff photo by Sarah Midgorden
(Kansas State junior forward Thomas Gipson scores against Ole Miss on Thursday night at Bramlage Coliseum. Gipson scored 15 points the Wildcats’ 61-58 victory over the Rebels).

The shots weren’t falling for the Wildcats on Thursday against Ole Miss, and the game had all the makings of earlier losses to Northern Colorado and Charlotte.

But trailing 53-49 with less than 4 minutes to play, Thomas Gipson and Marcus Foster sparked an 8-0 run, and K-State held on to win, 61-58, in Bramlage Coliseum.

In a close game that saw just six total lead changes, the Wildcats (5-3) led most of the way in the Big 12/SEC Challenge matchup.

But leading 48-44 with less than 6:30 to play, Ole Miss (6-1) guard Marshall Henderson made a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer to tie the game at 49, and the Rebels got two quick baskets from Demarco Cox and Sebastian Saiz to go ahead by four points.

That’s when things turned around for K-State. Gipson blocked back-to-back shot attempts by Aaron Jones, and the Wildcats ran the floor for Gipson to finish with a lay-up on the other end, including an and-one free throw to pull K-State within one.

Foster made 2 of 4 free throws in consecutive trips to the foul line, and then the Wildcats got a 3-pointer from the freshman with 1:20 left to push ahead 57-53.

The Wildcats survived a Henderson 3 and a last second 3-point attempt from the Rebels’ shot-chucker, and held on to win.

It was a game that was similar to the Northern Colorado and Charlotte losses, but one that showed a different side of the Wildcats.

“It’s a huge win for us, no doubt,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “We didn’t play very well, I’m not sure we coached very well, but we fought and toughed it out. We made some strides and I think we grew up. We’ve talked a lot about toughness, we’ve talked a lot about gut check, we’ve talked about roles — it was a big win. In the big picture you beat a very, very good team that’s going to win a lot of games.”

In easily the most attended game of the season, the performance wasn’t nearly up to the billing. The main attraction — K-State — couldn’t seem to make a shot, and the sideshow — Henderson — mostly lived up the antics side of his game, toying with the crowd — mostly the student section — on numerous occasions.

The Wildcats finished the game shooting 36 percent, including 55 percent at the foul line, where they missed 14 free throws in the second half alone. Henderson was 4 of 18 from the field, including 2 of 13 from long range. He finished with 13 points, scoring 10 alone in the second half.

The Wildcats were steadier in their approach, winning the rebounding battle 43 to 38, and leaning on 15-point performances from Gipson and Foster. Gipson was especially a handful for Ole Miss, making 6 of 7 shots from the field and drawing three charges.

“He was a man,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “We knew coming in — his size, his girth — we talked about staying higher than him defensively because if he ducks you in, his body on your body negates any ability to try and challenge him at the rim because he’s so big and he’s so strong. Give the kid credit, he finished and he made huge plays for them.”

Despite his performance, Gipson felt like credit was deserved all-around.

“I made some big plays that’ll help us, but so did Marcus and so did Wes and so did everybody else,” he said. “We all just put it together.”

The Rebels mostly came back in the second half as a result of the Wildcats’ poor shooting at the foul line. After a steady 6 of 7 first half performance, K-State made just 13 of 27 in the second half, allowing the Rebels to climb back in, and stick around.

After Gipson made the Wildcats’ first field goal of the second half at the 18:56 mark, they went more than five minutes before Wesley Iwundu, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds, finally made another.

The Wildcats made just eight field goals in the second half, making numerous empty trips to the free-throw line as lost opportunities to widen their lead.

“It’s frustrating but I kept telling them, you can’t do anything about it, but you can get stops,” Weber said. “I think we’re better free-throw shooters than that, hopefully it will come with time.”

For the Rebels side, it was a game that had them shooting as bad as they had all season, and finishing well below their average of 82 points per game. And K-State made Henderson take shots he didn’t need to take, and miss ones he often makes.

“We never got in any offensive rhythm,” Kennedy said. “I don’t think either team did. I think both teams played extremely hard, and we knew that coming in here.”

Weber thought the trio of Will Spradling, Foster and Iwundu did a good job guarding the Ole Miss senior, who scored just below his average of 15 points per game.

Iwundu said they all just tried to keep with him and make him take tough shots.

“Guarding him is a tough task,” Iwundu said of Henderson. “You know he’s getting the ball and he’s putting the thing up. You have to be on his tail every time, be alert on defense at all times and just be tough with him.”

Gipson said going forward, the win over Ole Miss is one they can grow from, not get complacent over.

“There’s always progress to be made after every game,” he said. “This was a big win for us, it can be a light switch, but we’ve still got Troy and Gonzaga — we have to be ready for that, too. We have to take it game by game.”

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