AMES, Iowa — Kansas State and Iowa State barely could miss during the first half of Tuesday’s game. They barely could throw it in the ocean after halftime.
But behind stellar free-throw shooting and contributions from every player who took the floor, K-State left Hilton Coliseum a 75-64 winner, marking its second straight victory following last week’s loss to Division II Fort Hays State.
“I’m obviously very, very happy for our guys,” said K-State head coach Bruce Weber, whose team improved to 3-4 overall and 1-0 in Big 12 play. “A week ago Tuesday, it was not a very good day. They came together. I told Wyatt (Thompson) and the radio people on the pregame (show) that if going through the loss last week brings our team together, I’ll take all the criticism. I’ll take all the gruff. It doesn’t matter. I think it brought those guys together.”
The teams put on an offensive clinic in the first half, as the Wildcats shot 52% (13-for-25) from the field. The Cyclones were even better, making 52.2% (12-for-23) of their attempts.
The final 20 minutes were a different story.
Both teams shot under 45%, with K-State connecting on only 36% (9 of 25) of its field goals. The Wildcats missed all 14 3-pointers they put up in the second half.
Weber attributed the stark contrast between the two halves to three factors.
Both teams made adjustments during the break. Both teams missed open shots in the second half that found the bottom of the net in the first. And given how the countless scheduling issues posed by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — this was Game 4 for the Cyclones (1-3, 0-1) this season; at this point last year, Iowa State already had played 10 games — Weber felt both teams still are getting their legs under them.
“This was the earliest Big 12 game in the history of K-State,” Weber said, referring to Tuesday’s date. “So you’re not in quite as good a shape.”
Nerves, Weber said, might have had something to do with the errant shots, too.
“It’s a tense game,” he said. “It’s a Big 12 game. It’s a fight, it’s a brawl.”
Ultimately, free throw shooting saved K-State.
The Wildcats shot a sizzling 89.7% (26-for-29) from the line, paced by DaJuan Gordon, who went 11-for-11. The 89.7% conversion rate at the line is the 10th-best outing in program history in a game in which the Wildcats attempted at least 20 free throws.
“It’s unbelievable, and if you look at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, we were 10-for-18,” Weber said. “We were very, very focused (Tuesday night).”
Just not on the game’s initial possession.
K-State gave up the first basket of the contest — a layup by Iowa State forward Solomon Young — immediately after losing the tip. But the Wildcats responded immediately, as senior guard Mike McGuirl knocked down a 3-pointer from the elbow. The two teams traded points over the next seven minutes before K-State started to give itself some breathing room.
Up 15-14 as the clock ticked under the 12-minute mark in the first half, the Wildcats then went on an 11-0 run — back-to-back-to-back pointers, the first two from sophomore forward Carlton Linguard followed by another from junior guard Rudi Williams and capped by a layup from Antonio Gordon — to extend their lead to 26-14.
Though Iowa State cut that edge in half, to 30-24 at the 5:31 mark, K-State ended the half with the flourish. The visitors outscored the hosts 10-2 in the final five minutes of the opening 20 minutes, jogging into the locker room ahead 40-26.
The Cyclones never made it a one-possession game in the second half. The closest they got to the Wildcats was five points, which came with 16 seconds remaining after Jalen Coleman-Lands knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 70-65.
“You can win in a lot of ways, and we found a way to win today by playing harder than our opponent, doing all those little things that make a difference, (having) great team balance and just out-toughing and (outfighting) them.”
All eight players who entered the game for the Wildcats scored at least two points, topped by sophomore guard DaJuan Gordon’s 15.
“I haven’t been playing very good over the last two games at all,” said Gordon, who also grabbed a game- and career-high 11 rebounds for his first double-double as a Wildcat. “Not making shots or playing aggressive, but I’ve just been in the gym working with (assistant) Shane (Southwell) and the coaches, talking with the coaches to see what I can do to do better. It paid off for this game.”
Freshman forward Davion Bradford pitched in 14, accounting for half (four) of K-State’s eight dunks. Two of those slams came on alley oops set up by McGuirl.
“He looks for me a lot,” Bradford said of McGuirl. “He sees an opening. He’s great (about being able) to look at open players. He just saw me every single time. I got that mindset of waiting on him to pass it to me.”
Williams and Linguard ended in double figures as well, scoring 10 points apiece.
“Great job by the guys coming off the bench,” Weber said. “Rudi with 10, Carlton with 10. Everybody really contributed.”
After the Wildcats went winless (0-9) in conference road games last season for the first time since the 2002-03 campaign, Weber was relieved to notch a victory in their first opportunity this year.
“Happy for (our players),” he said. “But obviously, we’ve got to keep moving forward.”