If a team has any realistic expectation of winning its conference — in particular the Big 12 — then it better be willing to run through a wall to make sure no one marches into its home arena and steals a win.
“If you can’t protect your home court in this league or any league, you’re not a very good team,” Kansas State head coach Frank Martin said. “They can bring the Lakers in here and we better be willing to protect our home court.”
Missouri certainly isn’t close to the caliber of one of the NBA’s top teams, but the Tigers are one of the best squads thus far this season in college basketball.
K-State’s task was to defend its home court against the seventh-ranked team in the country — one of four unbeaten teams remaining in the nation. Not only did the No. 23-ranked Wildcats protect Bramlage Coliseum, they sent the Tigers home with their tail between their legs, throttling Missouri 75-59 Saturday afternoon.
“As a coach you don’t ever want to feel like you just got your butts kicked,” Missouri head coach Frank Haith said, “and they kicked our butts. They physically kicked us and they were tougher.”
The Wildcats, coming off a 67-49 loss at No. 14 Kansas Wednesday night, came out on a mission Saturday, manhandling Missouri from the opening tip to the final buzzer. K-State jumped out to a 12-3 lead, eventually building a 44-23 advantage late in the first half. The Wildcats were dominant defensively — the Tigers didn’t even connect on a shot inside the 3-point arc until there was 4:09 left in the first half.
The Wildcats, which improved to 12-2 overall and 1-1 in league play, bottled up the country’s No. 2 scoring offense, holding Missouri 27 points below its season average. The Tigers, which led the country in field-goal percentage offense, making more than 52 percent of their shots, made just 22.7 percent from the field in the first half and finished the game at 32.7 percent.
“I feel like Missouri hadn’t seen a team that really pressured (them) like we did today,” said K-State guard Will Spradling, who finished with 14 points.
K-State pounded the glass. When Missouri missed shots, and there were plenty of those, the Wildcats made sure they got their mitts on the ball, giving up just seven offensive boards to the Tigers on the day. Overall, K-State outrebounded Missouri 39-25. The Wildcats were a physical force inside, outscoring the Tigers 46-18 on points in the paint, including outscoring them 22-0 inside in the first 15 minutes of the game.
Missouri isn’t deep overall, playing with just seven scholarship players. And it is even thinner in its frontcourt, utilizing just two true post players. The Wildcats, a team that utilizes their size and plays with a physical tenacity, took advantage.
“If you want to have success against them, it’s a big part of it,” Martin said regarding the inside play of his guys. “We talked offensively about either score in transition — if you can’t (score on the fast break) then score late in the shot clock, make them work. That way their size now becomes a problem for them.
“If I was coaching a team that was undersized I’d want you to take early shots in the shot clock because then my defense doesn’t move so defensive rebounding doesn’t become a problem. Mismatches during a possession aren’t as likely. I think our guys in the first half were real disciplined to that. The attention to detail to the scouting report was real good.”
K-State dished out 18 assists to just 14 turnovers, led by Shane Southwell, who had six assists and no turnovers. While the sophomore scored just four points, he was key in breaking down Missouri’s defense with his floor vision.
“Shane was awesome,” Martin said. “It was the best game he’s played all year.”
K-State shot 49 percent from the floor overall, including nearly 59 percent in the opening half. That shooting performance, coupled with its strong defense, allowed the Wildcats to open up a 44-25 halftime lead.
Missouri tried to make a push. The Tigers pulled to within 13 with 11:52 remaining on a Kim English layup. Martin proceeded to call a timeout, subbing all five of his starters back into the game, and they answered with an 8-0 run, capped by an alley-oop from Spradling to Rodney McGruder to push the lead to 60-39 with 8:51 left on the clock, ensuring Missouri wasn’t coming back on this day.
Ultimately, K-State showed two things on Saturday that have been proven by Martin’s teams of the past: The Wildcats stick together no matter what happens in the previous game, and they’re going to fight like heck to protect their home court, which they successfully did against Missouri.
“Just proud of these guys,” Martin said. “When you get embarrassed, one of two things happens to your team: You either come apart at the seams or those seams get a little tighter together.
“We watched the tape (of the KU game). They saw themselves. They saw the plays we got beat on, they know we were out of character there — that’s not who we are. We refocused and we were kind of back in character today.
“We were good and we protected our home court.”