The Kansas State Wildcats men’s basketball team visited the Oklahoma Sooners in Norman, beginning the new year with both teams’ first conference game this season.
The Kansas State Wildcats started 2022 with a sour note, beginning Big 12 conference play with a 71-69 loss to the Oklahoma Sooners. The loss ended Kansas State’s three-game winning streak, making their record 8-4.
Fifth-year senior guard Mark Smith had a historic performance against the Sooners, scoring 25 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. He is the first Wildcat with a 25+ point and 15+ rebound game since Michael Beasley in 2008. Smith now nearly averages a double-double in 2021, averaging 10.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
“I was just kind of playing my game,” Smith said after his historic game. “Trying to get to the basket. I tried to grab all the rebounds and I just tried to lead. I was aggressive, thought I could get to the basket a lot this game when I wanted to and that’s just what I tried to do.”
The Sooners jumped all over the Wildcats in the first half, leading by 15 points at one point. Kansas State only mustered 22 first-half points, a season-low for the Wildcats. Despite Smith’s 11 first-half points, the Wildcats trailed 33-22 at halftime. Kansas State has not won a game this season when trailing at the half, including Saturday’s game.
The first-half deficit was both offensive and defensive shortcomings. Kansas State only shot 16.7% from three and 32% overall in the first half, both well below season averages of 34.7% from three and 44.1% overall. The Wildcats never had the lead in the first half, a staggering testament to Oklahoma’s first-half dominance.
“We just didn’t do a very good job,” Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber said. “We had some layups too. We’re at the hoop. We had a couple of easy ones that we missed. We had a couple of tougher ones that we missed … this is Big 12 basketball. It’s the best league in the country. You’re going to have to step it up.”
Also, the Sooners capitalized on nine first-half turnovers from the Wildcats, turning them into 12 points. Oklahoma had a terrific start, shooting 35.3% from three and 40% overall. Kansas State entered the game as one of the best teams defending the three, only allowing 24.6% shooting. The Sooners also capitalized on poor rebounding from Kansas State with nine second-chance points.
“In the second half they got those three offensive rebounds for threes, and that was a key point in the game,” Smith said. “(Umoja) Gibson hit two and (Elijah) Harkless hit one, so those were kind of big momentum shifts.”
Kansas State came out of the break with more fire though. A 9-0 scoring run trimmed Oklahoma’s lead to five with 13 minutes left in the game. The Wildcats took that deficit and trimmed it to three points several times, a competitive shift from the first half. A three from sophomore forward Ish Massoud finally made the score 65-65 with 1:03 left to play.
Despite the Wildcats outscoring the Sooners 47-38 in the second half, the first half deficit was too much. The Sooners ultimately iced the game though, with two made free throws from senior guard Umoja Gibson.
“It’s mental toughness now coming back, win or lose you still gotta come back,” Weber said. “Every game is gonna be a tough one. We obviously have Texas on Tuesday. Top 20 team, could be top 15, I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. We’re gonna have to be special and we’re gonna have to have everybody give us something.”
Kansas State shot lights out in the second half, shooting 56.3% from three and 51.9% overall. Sophomore guard Nijel Pack, who scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half, Massoud, and Smith all scored in double digits for Kansas State. Those three players accounted for 55 of the Wildcats’ 69 points. Kansas State has now had at least three players score in double figures in 11 of 12 games this season.
Kansas State is now preparing for a Jan. 4 meeting with the Texas Longhorns. The Longhorns won their conference opener against the West Virginia Mountaineers, 74-59. Texas will be another test for the Wildcats, as the Longhorns are ranked 17th in the country with an 11-2 record.