MANHATTAN — Kansas State followed its best game of the season with a clunker.
The Wildcats, fresh off an impressive victory over Mississippi, slogged their way through a 64-62 win against South Dakota on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum.
The game was in doubt from start to finish, with the Coyotes (3-6) leading most of the way. The Wildcats (6-3) struggled to find an offensive rhythm and allowed South Dakota’s duo of Trevor Gruis, who scored 16 points, and Adam Thoseby, who had 18 points, to get to the basket with ease.
If not for freshman Marcus Foster nailing four three-pointers on his way to 18 points, Shane Southwell taking command late on his way to 17 points, and South Dakota bumbling away opportunities to force overtime in the final minute while K-State missed free throws, things could have been much worse.
The Wildcats will have plenty to improve upon before they next take the court against Troy on Sunday. But they can at least take solace in the fact that they won. That wasn’t the case earlier this year when K-State opened the season with a shocking loss to Northern Colorado.
“It was like going to the dentist and getting a root canal or getting your teeth pulled,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “That’s what it was like. It is very frustrating, but the positive is we found a way to win. We made some plays. It was a gut check. Three weeks ago when we played Northern Colorado in a similar game we didn’t win it. This time we won it.”
The difference, on this night, was veteran leadership. After an atrocious first half in which three K-State players scored, three K-State players were credited with assists, seven K-State players committed turnovers and South Dakota held a 31-26 lead, junior forward Thomas Gipson and Southwell, a senior guard, sparked a comeback.
Gipson called for the ball under the basket and scored 13 points while grabbing several key rebounds and sinking a crucial free throw with 2 seconds remaining. And Southwell led the way during a pivotal 7-0 run that gave K-State a 61-57 lead with 4:09 remaining.
First Southwell hit a driving layup, then he nailed a three, then he attacked the basket for another layup and Gipson was there to clean up his miss with a follow layup.
“We called this one a bar fight,” Gipson said, “because we just had to make the right plays and get stops down the stretch. We had to do the right things.”
Thing is, K-STate tried to give the game away. Though it held a lead the rest of the way, things were in doubt at the buzzer. K-State missed six of seven free throws in the final 51 seconds, and South Dakota’s Brandon Boss attempted a potential game-winning shot from half-court as time expired.
The shot missed badly, and K-State survived. But it wasn’t pretty.
“We did find a way to win,” Weber said, “but I think everyone knows we need to get better. If we don’t the competition is getting better and better and it’s going to get tougher and tougher.”