Wildcats wrap up regular season with 61-56 victory over Iowa State

Wildcats beat Iowa State for third victory in last four games

Arne Green
Salina Journal
Iowa State's Solomon Young and Kansas Sate center Davion Bradford battle for position near the basket during Saturday's regular-season finale at Bramlage Coliseum.

The Kansas State Wildcats came full circle on Saturday, wrapping up their Big 12 season the same way it started.

But they come out of their second victory over Iowa State in much better shape than the first.

By leading nearly wire-to-wire and knocking off the Cyclones, 61-56, at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, the Wildcats picked up their third victory in the last four games and now head to Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament with both momentum and renewed confidence.

Following a 74-65 win in the league opener Dec. 15 at Iowa State, the Wildcats dropped 13 straight conference games before the late-season surge. They finished the regular season 8-19 overall, but more importantly improved to 4-14 in the Big 12, surpassing last year's last-place 3-15 mark.

"We're a lot better than when we started," said K-State guard DaJuan Gordon, who scored nine of his 12 points in the first nine minutes as the Wildcats took the lead for good. "We’re all clicking together and jelling. Everybody's playing harder than we played and making a (few) shots."

K-State continued to struggle offensively, shooting 38% overall and just 26% in the second half, but made up for it with another stellar defensive performance. Iowa State shot just 35.8% and turned the ball over 10 times in the second period to finish with 16 for the game.

The Wildcats have now held four of their last five opponents under 60 points.

"Ever since about a month ago, I feel like our defensive intensity has picked up," said freshman point guard Nijel Pack, who finished with 10 points and a steal. "I feel like we're taking pride in our defensive side.

"I feel that's what's making us a different type of team, playing defense and locking guys down and not trying to have a scoring match with them. Instead, we try to keep them below a certain amount of points each game."

With the loss, Iowa State fell to 2-21 and went 0-18 in the Big 12. But the Cyclones, who were playing their third COVID-19 makeup game this week and were without leading scorer Rasir Bolton, refused to go away.

Kansas State's Selton Miguel, left, defends against Iowa State guard Tyler Harris during Saturday's game at Bramlage Coliseum. K-State closed the regular season with a 61-56 victory over the Cyclones.

After Pack's 15-foot jumper put K-State up 45-35 with 9:44 left, the Cyclones put together a 6-1 run, trimming it to 46-31 on two Solomon Young free throws at the 6:31 mark. But the Wildcats held them at arm's length, getting nine points down the stretch from Mike McGuirl, who finished with a team-high 17 points.

McGuirl was 9 of 10 from the free-throw line and hit a dagger 3-pointer that stretched the lead to 57-47 with 1:41 left.

"Mike McGuirl was big-time," K-State coach Bruce Weber said. "He not only got ball against the press, he made the free throws (and) hit a big three."

Defensively, the Wildcats turned again to freshman Selton Miguel, plus tied McGuirl and Gordon for team rebounding honors with five.

"I want to talk about Selton," Pack said. "He's turned into a really big-time defender. He's locked up the best of the best in our league and I'm really proud of him."

K-State went mostly with a four-guard lineup against Iowa State, alternating Davion Bradford and Kaosi Ezeagu in the middle. Weber said that forward Antonio Gordon, who did not play, likely is lost for the season.

"Just total health issues," Weber said. "He's had a bunch of things he's endured and wish we had him, but the season's taken a toll."

After a back-and-forth start, K-State went in front for good, 11-10, on Miguel's driving layup with 12:48 left in the first half and stretched it to five points on a Gordon 3-pointer and free throw. Ezeagu's two free throws gave the Wildcats their biggest lead of the period, 31-21, before settling for a 33-25 halftime advantage.

Iowa State was led by Jalen Coleman-Lands' 19 points, while Young had 18. Javan Johnson led the Cyclones to a 41-28 rebounding advantage with 11.

Next up for K-State is a first-round Big 12 Tournament matchup with TCU at 8 p.m. Wednesday at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City. The two teams split during the regular season, with the Wildcats winning the last matchup, 62-54, on Dec. 20 in Fort Worth, Texas.