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Free-throw disparity has hurt Kansas State in the Big 12

K-State has been outscored 70-47 from the line in Big 12 games

Arne Green
Salina Journal
Kansas State center Davion Bradford defends against Texas Tech's Marcus Santos-Silva during Tuesday night's game in Lubbock, Texas.

MANHATTAN — Bruce Weber wasn't crying foul, but he was the only one.

After his Kansas State Wildcats were outscored from the free-throw line, 30-9, in last Tuesday's 11-point loss at Texas Tech, there was no point in belaboring where the game was lost.

"We haven't got to the line much all year," Weber said after the Wildcats fell to 5-7 overall and 1-3 in the Big 12 following the 82-71 setback in Lubbock. "In fact, I think it was 8-0 on fouls at one point in the second half."

Fouls and free-throw disparity have especially been problematic in the four league games for K-State, which plays host to Oklahoma State (7-3, 1-3 Big 12) at 5 p.m. Saturday in Bramlage Coliseum. The Wildcats have committed 74 fouls to 55 for their opponents, resulting in 32 fewer free-throw attempts.

"Some of that is strength, some of that's maturity (and) understanding angles and things like that," Weber said after the Wildcats got to the line just nine times in the Tech game. "And then on the other end, being in position and not using their hands, helping each other out.

"I thought Selton (Miguel), after a couple of really rough outings, was much more aggressive and took the ball to the hoop and got further in and created some scoring opportunities for himself.

"And then on the other end, being in position and not using their hands — helping each other out. Just two or three possessions, but you can keep saying that until it changes. You're still going to be disappointed with a loss."

On the plus side, when the Wildcats attacked the basket, they made the most of their limited opportunities, going 9 for 9. Freshman guard Selton Miguel was especially effective, getting a majority of his 17 points in the lane, including a three-point play.

"I thought Selton, after a couple of really tough outings, was much more aggressive and took the ball to the hoop and got further in and created some scoring opportunities for himself," Weber said. "We felt we could get straight-line drives on them, which we did."

It didn't help that foul trouble limited 7-foot freshman center Davion Bradford to 18 minutes against a smaller, more mobile Texas Tech team. Bradford was 4 for 4 from the field and made both of his free throws.

While Bradford has been a pleasant surprise, his primary inside support has been sidelined, Kaosi Ezeagu and Montavious Murphy with knee issues and Antonio Gordon because of COVID-19 protocols.

Weber said on his Thursday radio show that he expects Gordon to be cleared to play Wednesday against Iowa State, while Ezeagu could be ready next Saturday at Texas. Murphy appears headed for surgery and could be done for the season.

Ezeagu, a 6-foot-10 sophomore transfer from UTEP, started the first four games ahead of Bradford before having surgery on his knee. Gordon was the Wildcats' leading scorer through the first two league games, thanks to a 19-point performance against Baylor.

Senior guard Mike McGuirl, who leads the team in scoring with 12.3 points per game, said the Wildcats can't afford to dwell on the injuries, which at times have left them with four freshmen on the floor.

"For sure it would look different," he said. "But at the end of the day we're one unit — next-man-up mentality.

"So whoever's the five on the court, we don't expect any drop-offs. We can't use that as an excuse and we've just got to learn from it."

Weber, who has gone with a four-guard lineup of McGuirl, sophomore DaJuan Gordon and freshmen Miguel and Nijel Pack since Antonio Gordon went out, said the best way to avoid fouling underneath the basket is defending early in possessions.

"With the inside part, you play defense before they get it," he said. "We've got to be better, because they got to the hoop on us a couple of times.

"Ours seem to lead to fouls. We just have to be able to move our feet better, play better one-on-one defense and hopefully correct that a little bit."

Pack, who had a career-high 17 points against Texas Tech, insisted that the young Wildcats are still learning how to defend.

"It's just that experience and kind of, I would say, that mental toughness," he said. "As it gets late into the shot clock (and) as it gets late into the game, we haven't had a media timeout in a minute and guys start getting tired, kind of start getting lazy.

"That's what's going to take us to the next level and that's what is going to make us a championship team, when we start pushing through that mental and physical toughness."

Oklahoma State, which beat Texas Tech in overtime last Saturday, blew a 19-point lead Monday in an 87-84 loss to West Virginia. The Cowboys are led in scoring by 6-8 freshman guard Cade Cunningham with 19 points a game, plus 6.1 rebounds. Isaac Likekele adds 12 points and a team-high 8.0 rebounds.

OKLAHOMA STATE AT KANSAS STATE

Tipoff: 5 p.m., Saturday, Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan.

Records: Oklahoma State 7-3 (1-3 Big 12), Kansas State 5-7 (1-3).

TV/Radio: ESPN2/Topeka: WIBW-AM (580); Salina: KSAL-AM (1150).

Next up for K-State: vs. Iowa State, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan.