For the second time this season, Kansas State got caught in a physical matchup, and the Wildcats weren’t the more physical team.
(Charlotte guard Terrence Williams pressures Kansas State’s Wesley Iwundu on Thursday morning in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Wildcats lost 68-61).
And for the second time, they lost.
The Wildcats shot just 18 percent from 3 and 36 percent from the field, losing to Charlotte, 68-61, in the opening game of the Puerto Rico Tip Off on Thursday.
The Wildcats (2-2) faced Georgetown this morning. The Hoyas were upset by Northeastern on Thursday.
K-State coach Bruce Weber said Thursday’s game was very similar to their season-opening loss to Northern Colorado.
“We didn’t start very well at the start of the (Northern Colorado ) game or the start of the second half,” Weber said. “Both times we came back, fought back; got a tie, took the lead in the first half, but never could get over the hump. They made the plays when it counted and we didn’t. They didn’t make many threes, but when they made them, they were big ones — kind of daggers.”
The biggest “dagger” of the contest came with 2:55 to play, when Charlotte’s Denzel Ingram hit a 3-pointer that pushed the 49ers’ lead out to six points. The Wildcats never recovered.
“We were going through a drought at one point, and I know that we needed a spark,” Ingram said. “I knocked down that three and it really gave us a boost. We really got after them after that.”
K-State made just 5 of 27 3-point attempts in the contest, shooting itself out of the game at times and rushing shots early in possessions.
Weber admitted he thought they shot too many 3s.
“The 3s — I blame myself, the same as that Northern Colorado game,” he said. “Start the second half, the first five possessions are 3s. For the most part I thought four of them were good open shots, but we’ve got to get some inside touches.”
Still, the Wildcats managed to make a run at the 49ers’ lead.
Charlotte broke away early in the second half with a quick 6-0 run that seemed to pace the final period. The 49ers pushed their lead out to as many as 13 before the Wildcats could answer.
K-State chipped into the lead and pulled as close as two points with 5:13 left after a pair of free throws from Will Spradling. Then Ingram knocked down his 3.
K-State made two of its five 3s in the final minute of the game, as the 49ers were closing out the contest at the free-throw line.
Charlotte coach Alan Major was impressed by his team’s toughness and its resiliency, making 14 of 18 free throws in the second half.
“Our mantra we’ve been chanting over-and-over is toughness,” Major said. “You’ve got to be mentally tough to deal with the ebbs and flows of the game and physically tough to deal with the intensity and the banging. And you’ve got to be team tough, dealing with calls and all that stuff. I thought the guys showed great toughness from beginning to end.”
The Wildcats again struggled on the inside, where their two posts, Thomas Gipson and DJ Johnson, combined to score just two points. In his second game back from injury, Gipson had two points and fouled out with 12:51 left in the game. K-State was outrebounded 46-38 — a common theme so far this season.
“We’ve got to fight on the boards, we’ve got to have five guys in there,” Weber said. “We know we are a little under-sized, so it’s got to be team rebounding, it’s got to be important for us.”
The positive for K-State was the way it played defensively, forcing the 49ers into 19 turnovers, including six steals and two shot-clock violations. Charlotte shot just 39 percent. But Weber said the rebounding played a role defensively.
“I think for the most part we were solid,” Weber said in the postgame radio show. “We thought it would come down to transition defense, one-on-one defense and then rebounding. It seemed like every time they got an offensive rebound, I’d love to see the percentage, but it seemed like they scored.”
Things got off to a really bad start early on for the Wildcats. K-State got ahead 8-7 before Charlotte went on a 13-0 scoring run to go ahead 20-8. But the Wildcats managed to get it turned around.
A Spradling 3 ended the run with 9:57 and kick started a 13-2 K-State run that would pull the Wildcats within one point at 22-21. The run included two 3s from Nigel Johnson, the first points of his K-State career.
Spradling knocked down a layup with 8 seconds left in the half to tie the game at 30 at halftime.
Still, Weber said they’ve got to be able to get off to a good start at the beginning of each half.
“Somehow, mentally and emotionally, they have to be ready to start the game,” he said. “It can’t be fake emotion, it’s got to be real. We can’t let offense dictate it, we’ve got to have a defensive mindset from the get-go. That will keep us hanging around in games.”
Fouls played a factor in the first half, as the Wildcats had four players with two fouls at halftime, and shot just two free throws in the whole half. The 49ers, meanwhile, committed just eight fouls and one player, Willie Clayton, shot all 11 of their free throws.
Johnson led the Wildcats with a career-high 14 points off the bench, including 3 of 6 from the perimeter. Shane Southwell had 11 points and nine rebounds, and Marcus Foster scored 11 points.
“I thought Nigel did a great job of giving us a boost both halves,” Weber said. “He played with a lot of confidence, which was positive and allows us to put Spradling at the two and allows him to get some things done also.”
Charlotte was paced by Mike Thorne Jr.‘s 16-point, 11-rebound performance, while Willie Clayton had 10 points and 10 rebounds.