Nijel Pack airballing a 3-pointer in Wednesday’s first half proved to be prophetic. Pack, a precocious freshman from Indianapolis, is Kansas State’s top 3-point shooter in nearly every category, be it by percentage or made field goals.
But his airmailed first-half attempt foreshadowed what was to come: one of the worst performances from beyond the arc an observer ever could witness.
In the latest edition of the Sunflower Showdown at Bramlage Coliseum on Wednesday, K-State missed 21 of its 24 3-point attempts in a 59-41 loss to No. 23 Kansas.
“I thought we had some of the most open shots we’ve had, maybe all year,” K-State head coach Bruce Weber said. “We just couldn’t make them.”
The Wildcats (5-18, 1-13 Big 12) only made one of their first 22 attempts from long range. But a pair of garbage-time triples — from Joe Petrakis and Carlton Linguard, respectively — helped the hosts avoid what would have been a historically bad outing. (The worst percentage in school history with at least one made 3-pointer is 5.6%; K-State went 1-for-18 in a loss at West Virginia in 2016. If not for the two 3-pointers in the last minute Wednesday night, the Wildcats would have finished below 5%.)
While the back-to-back 3s from Petrakis and Linguard prevented yet another line in the record book from being rewritten, it did nothing to change the result.
As is custom in this rivalry, year after year, KU (16-7, 10-5) had its way.
And while Petrakis and Linguard’s triples lifted the Wildcats out of 3-point purgatory, the Wildcats still couldn’t prevent making history in another negative way.
The 41 points set a pair of records.
• Fewest points in Weber’s nine years in Manhattan. (Previous low: 42, in a loss at Baylor in 2015.)
• Worse, it marked the fewest the Wildcats ever have scored at Bramlage Coliseum, dating back to the building’s first season in 1988-89. (Previous low: 42 versus Nebraska in 2006.)
K-State’s scoring woes made it easy work for KU.
The Jayhawks never trailed in the 18-point win. In fact, KU never trailed in either meeting this season. It led wire to wire in a 74-51 win in Lawrence on Feb. 2.
“I thought the guys were much better prepared this time than the last time,” Weber said. “Obviously the score isn’t much different, but we talked about playing strong and playing tough. We talked about not being tentative. I thought we battled them. I thought we were very well prepared defensively. We took them out of a lot of stuff. Then we talked about playing with courage. We kept battling and battling.”
The lone difference Wednesday compared to the first matchup: There at least was a tie.
KU won the opening tip, then scored immediately, on an alley oop layup from Jalen Wilson to Ochai Agbaji. K-State answered back less than 20 seconds later, as Pack dished off to fellow freshman Davion Bradford, who slammed it home to knot the score at 2-all.
But as the rhythm of this rivalry has dictated more often than not, the Jayhawks wasted no time breaking the tie and staking themselves out to a lead. The visitors ran off the next eight points for a 10-2 advantage.
K-State finally stopped the bleeding on a long 2-pointer from Antonio Gordon at the 12:46 mark. Between Bradford’s dunk and Gordon’s jumper, the Wildcats went nearly seven minutes without scoring a point. In that stretch, they went 0-for-10 from the field.
Instead of the Jayhawks running away and hiding after building an insurmountable lead, however, they went cold. A scoreless drought of 4:09 for KU allowed K-State to get back in the contest, cutting the deficit to 14-11 following a jumper from Pack with 6:28 remaining in the half.
In the final six minutes of the half, however, the Wildcats averaged just one point per 60 seconds. KU, on the other hand, scored 12 points, heading into the break ahead 26-17.
K-State drew within four points, 30-26, with 14:02 to play. But KU went on a 6-0 run in the next minute and a half to go up by 10. In the final 12-plus minutes, the Jayhawks outscored the Wildcats 23-15.
“All I was thinking was, ‘Just keep going, just keep going. Keep trying to do what we’ve been doing and we’re going to get there,’” said sophomore guard DaJuan Gordon, who played 28 minutes off the bench and scored a team-high 12 points in his first appearance since injuring his foot versus Texas A&M on Jan. 30. “But things happen. Calls don’t go our way, we don’t make shots and the lead gets to that. Can’t blame it on officials. You’ve just got to make shots and keep pushing, keep guarding. We guarded pretty well.”
Weber said his team “just had some bad possessions” offensively in the latter part of the second half.
“We just kind of lost our poise at that point,” he said. “Disappointed for the guys. I know how much it meant for them. I thought we were more ready to play. We battled them and defended them. We get 12 offensive rebounds and just eight second-chance points. Those are the plays. Those are the difference makers in the game.”
Well, that and making only one 3-pointer in the first 39 minutes of a 40-minute ballgame.
“We just weren’t making shots,” sophomore forward Antonio Gordon said. “We got good shots. We got good looks. We’ve just got to knock them down.”
Weber couldn’t pinpoint exactly why the team struggled so badly from distance Wednesday.
“We haven’t been good shooting all year,” he said, “but we’ve been better than that.”
Weber pondered whether the diametrically opposed mindsets a team is asked to own offensively and defensively could have played a role.
“On one end of the court, you’re asking them to be intense, ready and playing on their toes. I thought we did a lot of good things on that end,” said Weber, referring to the Wildcats’ defensive philosophy. “On the other end, you have to be relaxed and confident and have poise. Maybe the adrenaline and wanting it so bad (was the problem).”
Having lost 13 straight games, the Wildcats now are within one of tying the school record, set over two seasons (1921-22 and 1922-23) nearly a century ago.
To avoid matching that mark, K-State will have to beat TCU on the road Saturday.
The game is set to tip off at 4 p.m. in Fort Worth, Texas, and will air on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.