Winners of eight straight games entering Saturday’s Big 12 opener against No. 6 Oklahoma State, Kansas State hasn’t been mentioned along with the likes of the Cowboys, Kansas, Iowa State and Baylor when it comes to who’s capable of winning the conference title. The reasons included the need to account for the graduation of Rodney McGruder, Angel Rodriguez’s decision to transfer to Miami and the lack of a clear-cut primary scoring option.
If Kansas State is to be successful they’ll need to do so as a committee, and that was the case Saturday as they beat the Cowboys 74-71 in Manhattan. And two of the key figures were players who were not Wildcats last season, as freshman Marcus Foster racked up 17 points and eight rebounds and classmate Jevon Thomas added ten points and five assists in his third game at K-State.
Offensively Foster’s somewhat taken over the role left vacant by McGruder, entering the game averaging a team-best 13.8 points per game, and that continued to be the case on Saturday afternoon.
Thomas on the other hand proved to be the spark plug the Wildcats envisioned against Oklahoma State, with his speed proving to be a factor on both ends of the floor but especially on offense. Offensively he gives Kansas State a point guard capable of applying pressure to the opposition off the dribble, something they lacked while he sat out during the remainder of the fall semester. After using that speed to set up teammates in his first two games (5.0 apg), Thomas got untracked scoring-wise against Oklahoma State.
Add in the interior toughness displayed by rugged forward Thomas Gipson (11 points, ten rebounds) and 15 points from Nino Williams, and Weber’s Wildcats were able to put forth the effort needed to survive shooting 36% from the field. Kansas State will be successful when they’re balanced offensively, and defensively when they make teams work for everything they get in the half court.
Oklahoma State’s perimeter tandem of Markel Brown and Marcus Smart entered Saturday averaging a combined 33.7 points per game with both shooting at least 46.7% from the field. They may have scored 31 points against Kansas State, but the duo did so while shooting 8-for-22 from the field (36.4%). And when this happens it’s tough for the Cowboys to win, even with Le’Bryan Nash accounting for 20 points and nine rebounds.
Can Kansas State surprise some people and contend for another Big 12 title? That remains to be seen. But if there’s anything to be taken from their win over Oklahoma State, it’s that the Wildcats have no intention of going down without a fight.