'Finish the game': Kansas State basketball on point until sloppy finish against Omaha
MANHATTAN — Kansas State showed a whole lot of what Bruce Weber would like to see from his Wildcats, and a little of what keeps him up at night.
A dream start, accentuated by a textbook offensive precision, staked the Wildcats to an early double-digit lead and allowed them the luxury of a ragged finish Wednesday night in a 79-64 victory over Omaha at Bramlage Coliseum.
“Our main focus or mission was the get better and improve from one game to the next (and) I thought we did," Weber said. "I said all along we're good shooters if we get good shots, and what did we start 5-for-5 to start it?
"We had good open shots, made the right passes — 10 assists on 17 field goals at halftime. Probably the only disappointing thing was just the finish. Finish the game."
Indeed, the Wildcats connected on their first seven shots to lead 15-2, hit Omaha with an 11-point run late in the half and led 42-26 at intermission. They shot 52.8% for the game, outrebounded Omaha, 41-29, and led by 26 points with under five minutes left.
But then they reverted to the bad habits that plagued them in the season opener against Florida A&M as well, turning the ball over 11 times in the second half, including on five straight possessions midway through the period.
"You've been doing one thing well, just keep doing it," Weber said. "You don't have to go reinvent it. Make the easy play."
For the most part, that's what the Wildcats did. Forward Ismael Massoud scored all 15 of his points in the first half and point guard Nijel Pack had 11 of his 15 in the second, while Mark Smith and Markquis Nowell added 11 each and three more players had eight.
"Since our last game, our emphasis during practice had been ball movement," Massoud said. "We did a great job of doing that and we just wanted to show that we continue to get better and I feel like we’ve got to another level to get to, especially closing out games at the end.
"We've got so much talent in this team the more we spread the love and pass the ball around, the harder it’s going to be for opponents to guard us.”
Nowell, who in addition to his 11 points had three assists and two steals in 20 minutes off the bench, concurred.
"Every day on a daily basis ball movement is key because you’ve got a lot of guys," Nowell said. "The ball can't really stick with shooters and we are a better team when the ball moves.
"So when you’ve got that much talent, you’ve got to move the ball and try to use it to the best of your ability.”
Feeding the big men
Another positive byproduct of the Wildcats' ball movement — Selton Miguel had six assists to go with his eight points and Pack had five — was a solid performance from post players Kaosi Ezeagu and Davion Bradford, who each had eight points and combined for 11 rebounds.
"I feel it was a great impact for them," Pack said. "They're probably (two) of the hardest workers on the floor that don't get the ball as much as the guards do.
"They've got to play defense every possession, they've got to screen hard and they've got to dive hard every time. But being able to find them rolling (to the basket) gets them easy layups and dunks and boosts their confidence and makes them want to do more on the offensive and defensive ends."
Ezeagu made his second straight start in the middle, made all three of his shots and both free throws, while grabbing six rebounds and blocking a pair of shots. Bradford, who missed 10 days of practice with pneumonia leading up to the season, was 4 of 8 from the floor with five rebounds in just 14 minutes.
"Davion and Kaosi were very, very active (defensively)," Weber said. "Those two as a combined two-headed monster, you've got 16 points and 11 rebounds. That's pretty good from your fives."
McGuirl struggles again
Super-senior guard Mike McGuirl, who started every game and averaged 11.8 points last year, had a second straight difficult night to open the season.
Coming off the bench for the first time — Miguel took his place in the starting lineup alongside Smith and Pack — McGuirl missed his only shot and turned the ball over three times to go with two assists and three rebounds in 17 minutes. He missed all six of his shots from the floor and finished with three points against Florida A&M.
But neither his teammates nor Weber are pushing a panic button just yet.
"We all know how great a player Mike McGuirl is," Pack said. "Everybody has those slumps.
"We've just got to continue to encourage him. He just needs a couple of buckets to go in, just to get himself flowing and he'll be right back to being that great player we know he is."
Weber expects nothing less, either.
"I thought, if I brought him off the bench maybe it would relax him a little bit," Weber said. "It's just a lot of pressure. He had such visions of what this was going to be.
"I still think he's going to have a great year. Now he's got to get through. He needs a couple of things to go his way, and if that happens obviously he's going to help us, there's no doubt about that."
On to Kansas City
Next up for the Wildcat is a trip to Kansas City for the Hall of Fame Classic at T-Mobile Center. The Wildcats open at 8 p.m. Monday against Arkansas, then face either Illinois or Cincinnati the following night.