As the holidays approach, the Kansas State Wildcats traveled north to face a former Big 12 conference foe. With a tale of two halves, how did Kansas State fare?
The Nebraska Cornhuskers hosted the Kansas State Wildcats, Dec. 20, in the first matchup in a three-game series between the two schools. The Wildcats prevailed on the road, 67-58, in a comeback effort in a sold-out Pinnacle Bank Arena. These two teams met for the first time in more than 10 years and did not fail to entertain fans.
The Wildcats trailed by 10 in the first half, behind a stellar start by Nebraska from beyond the arc. Jumping out of the gates making 5-of-11 from 3-point range, Nebraska held a solid 25-15 lead in the first half. That ten-point deficit would be the largest of the night for Kansas State before they rattled off an 18-2 run to end the half with a 33-27 lead over the Cornhuskers. Kansas State scored 16 straight points in that first-half run, quickly closing the gap. The Wildcats shot awfully from three in the first half, going 2-of-14. The Wildcats found much of their first-half scoring with powerful drives and working the ball inside.
The Cornhuskers took a 36-33 lead to start the second half, but a 12-2 scoring run by Kansas State quickly put the Wildcats back in the driver’s seat. The two teams traded blows and the lead for much of the second half, but a 12-2 run by Kansas State gave them a commanding lead. While Nebraska did cut the lead to four points late in the half, Kansas State’s defense suffocated Nebraska. Both an advantageous offense and persistent defense from the Wildcats eventually proved too much for Nebraska,
“It’s the best feeling any place we play, home or away. It’s a great feeling to walk out with a W,” said sophomore guard Nijel Park. “It’s one we all worked or and that we all wanted from the beginning. Just a hard-fought game, but we’re all happy to get a W.”
It was a great night for Park, with 15 points on 5-of-13 field goals, including 2-of-9 from 3-point range, to go with a career-best 8 rebounds, season-tying 5 assists, and 2 steals in a season-best 34 minutes.
Park and fellow sophomore Ish Massoud were the only two Wildcats scoring in the double digits, but Kansas State’s bench contributed 23 points in the end. The Cornhuskers saw little production from their bench, who only mustered six points, a key shortfall for a shorthanded Nebraska team.
“Obviously you win a road game and you’re happy,” said Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber. “Got the rivalry renewed. You got an easy two-hour and 15-minute bus ride up here, great arena, great history to this game and we knew they were a wounded animal. They had a bad stretch.”
That bad stretch from Nebraska reflected on the stat sheet, making no three-point attempts and shooting 30% from the field in the second half. Nebraska scored their second-fewest points of the season, and nearly 20 points below their season average. Nebraska senior Alonzo Verge, Jr. scored a game-high 21 points while freshman Bryce McGowens totaled14 points as well.
“We were communicating excellent. We knew they did a lot of ball screens and cutting,” Pack said. We were able to push up, switch them, make everything a lot higher out on the floor and just force them to taking tough shots and we were able to get rebounds and go or be able to get steals and play in transition which plays into our favor.”
This is the first game in a three-game series between the two schools, which was scheduled to start in the 2020 season. The two schools delayed the series start, allowing for more fan attendance in the anticipated game. Kansas State and Nebraska will meet in 2022 in Kansas City, while the series will end in Manhattan, Kan., in 2023.
The Wildcats must shift quickly, hosting Southland Conference foe McNeese State (3-8) at 7 p.m., CT at Bramlage Coliseum. This will be the first meeting between the two schools on Kansas State’s home court.