It should have come as no surprise that Kansas State won its biggest game of the season on the same day Stephen Hurt played his best.
K-State basketball coach Bruce Weber has praised the 6-foot-11 junior forward since he signed with the Wildcats last fall. It was only a matter of time, he insisted, before Hurt made the adjustment from junior college to Division I and made an impact on the basketball court.
He has done that and more in K-State’s past two games, finishing with 15 points and eight rebounds in a confidence-shifting victory at Oklahoma and then doing a little bit of everything in a win against Texas Tech.
“The way he is playing, it’s a huge lift for the whole team,” K-State guard Justin Edwards said. “Hurt is a really good shooter for a big man, and he proved it against Oklahoma. Hopefully, now teams will start to realize that and it will open things up for the rest of us.”
Hurt expected to do that immediately after arriving during the offseason. It simply took him longer than expected to shake a groin injury in December and make the transition to major-college basketball.
His favorite player is Dallas Mavericks all-star Dirk Nowitzki and he models his game after the sharp-shooting forward, stepping outside for jumpers as well as banging with other front-court players for rebounds under the basket. That versatility is a welcome addition to Weber’s offense, as long as Hurt is willing to stay within its confines.
That means setting screens, aggressively shooting mid-range shots off the pick-and-roll and turning down threes.
“When he has his feet and legs set,” Weber said, “he has that great rotation and touch and follow through on the ball.”
An even-keel demeanor has helped Hurt steadily improve.
“It is great that he has kept a great attitude,” Weber said. “He comes everyday and battles. He is not the most athletic yet. He needs to get his body better, but he has been a blessing for us. He has matured, he is older and he has kept a great attitude. It is great that he was able to have a good game and maybe move forward and build confidence.”
Hurt is trying to do exactly that.
“Coach would rather have me doing pick-and-pop and focusing more on the mid-range. That is my area,” Hurt said. “But if the three is open, he lets me shoot it. So it depends on the situation, but he has trust in me. In practice, I have found spots where I can score, and it is more instinct now. I know where to score and how to help my teammates out, whether it be screening or different things. It is definitely more instinctive. I am thinking less now.”
That was most obvious against Oklahoma, when he entered the game in relief of starting forward Thomas Gipson and hit jumper after jumper to help K-State pull the upset.
Hurt was averaging about 14 minutes going into that game, and his willingness to take unguarded, outside shots likely surprised Oklahoma defenders. But he has averaged 20 minutes since, and he is beginning to show up on opposing scouting reports.
But he is ready to step up his game accordingly, and to keep K-State’s three-game winning streak going against Baylor on Saturday.
“We are definitely finding ways to push through adversity,” Hurt said. “I would say we are clicking as a team at a really good time. We just have to keep things going.”
No. 22 Baylor at Kansas State
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan
Records: Baylor 13-3, 2-2 Big 12; KSU 10-7, 3-1
Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM
No. 22 Baylor at Kansas State
Baylor (13-3, 2-2): The Bears are coming off their biggest victory of the season, a 74-73 win against No. 11 Iowa State. Baylor hit a game-winning shot in the closing moments to beat the Cyclones, evening their Big 12 record at .500 after losing their first two games against Oklahoma and Kansas. Gathers has become a rebounding force for Baylor. The well-built junior is averaging a double-double. Chery also continues to improve as a guard. He is now a double-digit scorer.
Kansas State (10-7, 3-1): The Wildcats have won three straight after losing three in a row. Their winning streak is over TCU, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. A win against Baylor would futher validate the Wildcats’ recent success. Foster seems to have turned things around, having scored at least 14 points in three straight games. Justin Edwards and Stephen Hurt have also been effective off the bench during K-State’s winning streak.
RPIs as of Friday: Baylor 16, K-State 110.