Kansas State Wildcats vs. Nebraska: Basketball Game Analysis

The Kansas State men’s basketball team won its first meeting against Nebraska in more than a decade 67-58 on Sunday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

There were no style points involved in this game of former Big 12 rivals, but that was just fine with the Wildcats, who were happy to pick up a road a win over a Big Ten opponent by any means necessary.

Nebraska jumped out to an early lead, but K-State controlled the game the rest of the way and made enough plays late to win a comfortable margin. Nijel Pack led the Wildcats with 15 points. Ismael Massoud was the only other K-State player in double figures with 10 points, but nine different players scored in this defensive battle.

It felt odd that Mark Smith drained a long three-pointer in the final moments to clinch the game for the Wildcats. Both teams combined to make just 11 of 54 shots from behind the arc, but K-State found the bottom of the net when it mattered most.

“Whenever you get a road win you’re happy,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “It was good that we got this rivalry renewed. It’s an easy bus ride up here in a great arena. There is some great history to this game.”

Everything started coming up purple in this game at the 8:48 mark of the first half. Nebraska had five three-pointers and led 25-15 at that point. The Huskers had the home crowd behind them, and the Wildcats couldn’t seem to buy a bucket. Big Red seemed well on its way to victory.

But things changed heading into halftime. The Wildcats picked up their defense considerably and held the Huskers scoreless for the next 8 minutes, 27 seconds of the game.

During that time, Nebraska looked clueless on offense and missed nine straight shots. Credit the Wildcats for that. They made life miserable for the Huskers whenever they possessed the ball. Good defense eventually led to solid offense for K-State, and the Wildcats finished the half on an impressive 18-2 run.

Nebraska (5-7) made things close at the start of the second half, but K-State (7-3) made enough plays to pull away.

Here are some key takeaways from the game:

This was an important victory for K-State

If the Wildcats have any hope of contending for a NCAA Tournament berth this season, this is the type of game they need to win.

Nebraska is a decent basketball team with talented scorers and a former NBA head coach, but the Huskers are also one of the worst squads in the Big Ten.

Most teams with postseason aspirations are going to beat them this season, even on the road.

K-State could ill afford to let a game like this slip away after losing by a single point to Marquette and dropping both of its games against quality competition at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic earlier this season.

But the Wildcats took care of business and now have a solid victory to add to their resume. At 7-3 with a pair of winnable home games coming up, all signs point to K-State entering conference play with an encouraging record and lots of momentum next month.

The Big 12 will be daunting. Baylor, Kansas and Texas are as strong as they’ve ever been. Iowa State is shockingly undefeated. Both TCU and West Virginia only have one loss. At No. 66, Ken Pomeroy has K-State as the lowest rated team in the conference right now.

But K-State won’t be intimidated by road venues. It already owns victories over Nebraska and Wichita State that were played in front of big crowds.

It won’t be easy, bu the Wildcats can reach the NCAA Tournament by posting a winning record in Big 12 games.

“There is nothing like the Big 12 right now,” Massoud said. “It’s the best league. But to go into a road environment like Wichita — they’ve got a pretty good team — and then against this team today — they had great fans — we had to fight through adversity and pull out a gritty win. For us, it is just going to keep getting us better so that when the conference starts we’ll be ready for it.”

New starting lineup yields unexpected results

For the first time all season, Weber decided to use two point guards in K-State’s starting lineup.

Many have wondered how Markquis Nowell and Pack would co-exist in the same back court, and they got their answer on Sunday. The early results were promising, as the Wildcats moved the ball around on their opening possession and Pack drained an uncontested three-pointer at the top of the key.

But K-State sputtered the rest of the half, particularly from beyond the arc.

The Wildcats missed their next 11 shots from three-point range and trailed 25-15 at the 8:48 mark of the first half. They looked doomed.

Things eventually flipped the other way. K-State ended the half on a decisive 18-2 run. But that stretch had much more to do with strong defense than good offense. It lasted the final 8:48 of the half.

Little changed the rest of the way. K-State scored often enough to win the game, but offense took a back seat to defense.

That was not the intended result of playing Nowell and Pack together. They are the team’s top two shooters and leading scorers. Weber feared K-State would suffer on defense while playing both of them. The hope was it wouldn’t matter because they would become much more productive on offense.

It didn’t work out that way.

Nebraska only made five of 28 shots from three-point range. K-State countered by making six of 26.

Nowell and Pack still make sense together, because they are two of K-State’s best players. But they couldn’t generate much of an offensive spark against Nebraska.

Still, Pack liked it.

“We build off each other,” Pack said. “I know he’s a great player who can get his own shot. I’m a great player who can get my own shot and. It was a great feeling for us to go out there and be on the floor together and creating for others. We are always going at it in practice so it felt great to be on the same team as him.”

Old Big 12 North rivals reunite

Much has changed since K-State and Nebraska played their final game against each other as Big 12 rivals in 2011.

The Cornhuskers have moved to the Big Ten and now play their home games inside of a state-of-the-art arena that feels more like a NBA venue than a classic college setting.

Still, this game brought back some memories.

Both teams still play the same hard-nosed style of basketball they did a decade ago, the fans cared about the result and the head coaches are familiar with each other. Bruce Weber and Fred Hoiberg used to have chess matches when Hoiberg worked at Iowa State.

This wasn’t an aesthetically pleasing game by any means, but it was a close one. Both teams played hard. No one cared about style points.

Weber said he added Nebraska to the schedule because it makes sense to play a team that K-State has history with and is located less than 120 miles away from Manhattan.

It wasn’t as much fun as K-State/Wichita State was earlier this month at Intrust Bank Arena, but it was way better than your average nonconference game.

Fans on both sides should enjoy K-State and Nebraska playing at least twice more, at Bramlage Coliseum and T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, in future years.

This story was originally published December 19, 2021 7:08 PM.

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Kellis Robinett covers Kansas State athletics for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. A winner of more than a dozen national writing awards, he lives in Manhattan with his wife and four children.

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