On a night when no one, and I mean no one, except the die hard Wildcat fans gave K-State a chance to beat that team down the road, The ‘Cats delivered.
The story of the game was Nigel Johnson coming off the bench. He scored a career high 20 points including 4-of-5 from behind the arc. Nigel was calm and seemed to feel no pressure in taking the big shots for the Wildcats. At one point, the Wildcats were down six in the first half and many inside the Octagon of Doom began to feel the game slipping away. But, Johnson stared down his defender and rose up to hit the three. The Wildcats carried that momentum into the half and captured a one point lead.
For just the second time since losing to the Cyclones in Ames, the Wildcats hit the 70 point mark. The Cats hit on 47 percent of their field goals, and were 16-19 from the free throw line. More important than that, was their defense that seemed on it toes the entire game. That “team down the road” only hit on 39 percent of their shots. K-State’s tenacious defense held the Big 12’s best three-point shooting team to 2-13 from downtown.
Nino Williams rebounded from a four point first half to finish with 15 points, including what seemed to be the game sealing 16-footer with just 28 ticks left to put the Cats up five. Williams fought hard all night, getting to the free throw line, where he has been the most dependable player on team all year. Nino connected on seven of his eight attempts from the charity stripe, including the two at the end of the first half that gave the Cats the lead.
But, there are several other things that were apparent in this game. Nigel Johnson appeared to take the point guard job away from Jevon Thomas. Johnson scored 20 and grabbed three boards in twenty eight minutes and had zero turnovers. Meantime, Thomas’ inability to control the ball has hurt him all season. He seems to make unforgivable mistakes at the most inopportune times.
The rift between Coach Weber and Marcus Foster does appear to be completely over. In the final minutes of the game, with the outcome still in question Foster was beckoned to the bench. In all fairness, the Cats seemed to play their best tonight with the players that finished the game. Foster did not have a good night, finishing with just 6 points on 3-13 shooting. There is still clearly work there for Foster to get back to the player we know he can be.
Coach Weber probably bought himself a little breathing room from the fans that have been calling for his job. Like any great rivalry, a win can do a lot for the fan base and coaches. Weber has now beaten that “team down the road” in the Octagon of Doom in back-to-back seasons, a feat that has not been accomplished since the 1981-1982 seasons.
The real question though is what can the team do with this statement win? They now sit well within reach of finishing the season in the top six of the conference. With and home game looming against the very tough Cyclones, the Cats have a chance to open a few eyes and become possibly the most interesting team in the postseason discussion. While an invite to the big dance might seem light years away, three or four more wins make them a great team to argue about come Selection Sunday.
(pictured: author Jason Sager with former Wildcats Martavius Irving and Omari Lawrence.)