MANHATTAN — Kansas State has played four basketball games at Bramlage Coliseum this season. The first was a loss. Tiny crowds turned out for the other three.
Now the Wildcats get an opportunity to bring excitement back to their home court.
K-State plays host to undefeated Mississippi in an intriguing game that will be televised nationally on ESPN2 as part of the new Big 12-SEC challenge. Curious eyes will be on Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson, one of the most flamboyant and best scorers in college basketball, and how the Wildcats try to defend him.
“It will be a big game for us,” senior guard Will Spradling said. “It could get the preseason turned around for us. We had a rocky start, and we should have a good home crowd on Thursday.”
No matter what happens on the court, a larger crowd will be a welcome change. In its first seven games, K-State played in front of empty seats at home and on a neutral court in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. It hasn’t felt the energy of a packed arena.
At times, that has made it difficult to play with maximum effort.
For that reason, K-State coach Bruce Weber has been campaigning for fans to attend the game all week.
“The energy has to be there,” Weber said. “It helps us. They are an experienced team and their guard play is so good. It energizes you and helps you play at a high level.”
K-State will need to play near its highest level to beat Ole Miss. Though Henderson is the focal point of the team, the Rebels aren’t a one-man show. Henderson (15.2 points) isn’t even the leading scorer. Jarvis Summers (15.7) and Derrick Millinghaus (15.3) have led the way so far.
Weber isn’t sure how he will defend Henderson, who can shoot from long range and drive to the basket, but he envisions Nigel Johnson, Omari Lawrence and Spradling all taking turns against him.
“It is a tough thing, because the other guys are playing well, too,” Weber said. “… We hope our experience and our experienced guys that have been through it and have good defensive principles can help us.”
If they are successful, the Wildcats could benefit long term.
Early losses to Northern Colorado, Charlotte and Georgetown pushed them well off the NCAA Tournament radar. But a victory over Mississippi and a strong December could boost their resume before conference play begins.
“It is important, because we lost a couple games that we were supposed to win,” junior forward Thomas Gipson said, “that will probably decide whether we are in the tournament or not. If we win against this team then I am pretty sure that we will have a chance to go into the tournament.”
Speaking of the NCAA Tournament, K-State would have faced Ole Miss in the round of 32 last year had it defeated La Salle in the second round.
An unexpected loss prevented that game from occurring, but K-State began researching the Rebels just in case. The Wildcats remember much of it now.
“They kind of take crazy shots, Marshall Henderson does, but they go in,” Gipson said. “I respect that, but we just have to play team defense. Their bigs are good. I have a challenge, the guards have a challenge, we all have a challenge, and we have to step up to it.”