It might not have been the prettiest game of Marcus Foster’s career, but it might always be remembered for just one shot.
With Kansas State clinging to a one-point lead with less than 2 minutes to play, Foster nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to help the Wildcats hang on to a 61-58 win over Ole Miss.
Foster was one of three freshmen that put up big performances on Thursday, scoring 15 points and adding five rebounds, while Wesley Iwundu had a double-double — 10 points and 10 boards — and Nigel Johnson had six points, five rebounds and three assists, almost all coming in the first half.
But Foster’s night was capped by the shot that put K-State ahead for good, and turned around his 5-for-16 shooting night.
“It was a big shot, knowing that my shot wasn’t really falling from 3,” he said. “My teammates just kept telling me to be confident, control what I could control, and they said it would fall. Coach (Bruce) Weber drew up that play and I knew I was going to hit it.”
Weber described Foster as mature for a freshman player, as well as focused and poised. He said the shot he made and his ability to drive the lane against a good shot-blocking team in Ole Miss — ranked fourth nationally — showed he wasn’t afraid.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said Foster didn’t play like he was just eight games into a college career.
“Marcus Foster certainly does not look like a freshman,” he said. “Physically very strong, he makes sharp, quick moves — we were trying to pressure him some, he didn’t look very comfortable handling the ball, but he’s a 1-2 dribble pull-up guy in the mold of Mitch Richmond. And he’s a tremendous player.”
Iwundu had most of his rebounds in the first half, but started scoring in the second half when the Wildcats needed it most. Earlier this season Iwundu was the first freshman since Michael Beasley to have a double-double in his debut, and this was his second of the season.
Iwundu said Weber urged him to assert himself like he did in the first game of the season.
“Coach Weber told me this was one of those games where I needed to get on the boards more and get my teammates involved more,” he said. “I just had to become more strong.”
The guy who did have the numbers, but caught Weber’s attention, was Johnson. Will Spradling went to the bench with two fouls after just six minutes in the first half, and Johnson was thrust into action as the team’s point guard, playing 16 minutes in the first half alone.
With all three freshmen on the floor, and guarding the Rebels’ three guards, Weber said they played more like veterans.
“The one no one mentions is Nigel,” he said. “In the first half Nigel saved us. We had three freshmen on the floor and they got three veteran guards who’ve been through the war. These guys are guarding older experienced guards that have played in the SEC and the NCAA tournament.”
Junior forward Thomas Gipson said the improvement from the start of the season to now has been noticeable, especially since his own return to the lineup. With Gipson back on the floor, the other freshmen have learned how to operate within the offense more fluidly.
Foster said the close game against Ole Miss taught the younger players a lot.
“I think we grew up a lot,” he said. “Especially coming from high school where I’ve never really been in a game like this where it’s going back and forth, where it could go either way — it’s all about a learning experience for me.”