An inability to defend one type of shot cost Kansas State during an 80-61 loss to Iowa State on Saturday at Hilton Coliseum – the corner three.
Iowa State players looked like future NBA stars when they attempted them, Matt Thomas in particular.
Thomas, a junior guard, scored the majority of his 20 points from the corners, swishing five three-pointers in front of 14,384 fans. K-State coach Bruce Weber reacted the same way to each of them, throwing his arms up in a display of disbelief and frustration.
The corner three is one of the most difficult shots in basketball, and K-State defended it as such, concentrating its efforts elsewhere. That strategy worked in favor of the Cyclones, who continually kicked the ball from one side of the court to the other – hockey passes, Weber called them – to pull away with a barrage of second-half three-pointers.
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“The biggest thing was preaching to our guys that we have to get ball reversal,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said. “Sometimes we want to get into ball reversal so early, but when we execute and we run offense and move the ball side to side we are very, very good.”
The Wildcats (15-14, 4-12 Big 12) went toe-to-toe with the No. 17 Cyclones (20-9, 9-7) for much of the game and led 39-37 early in the second half. But that was before Iowa State got hot from the outside. Then everything changed.
The Cyclones took control on a jumper from Georges Niang, which Thomas followed by making back-to-back threes from the same spot in front of Iowa State’s bench. Weber called timeout with 14:49 remaining, but the stoppage did little to slow the opposition.
Hallice Cooke put Iowa State further ahead when he caught the ball at the same location and drained another trey. The Cyclones were beginning to pull away, and Thomas hit another three to put them ahead 53-41.
“That left corner was good to me,” Thomas said.
Weber expressed little frustration about the corner threes, saying it is simply hard to defend a team of Iowa State’s caliber, which he described as one of the nation’s best passing teams. He thought the Wildcats were occasionally slow to rotate and get a hand up in front of outside shooters, but he was mostly pleased with the defensive effort.
For the first time in weeks, he went out of his way to say he thought his team played well.
“They made plays and then they made shots,” Weber said of Iowa State. “You have got to limit their layups and hope they don’t make threes, but they made them in that one stretch. That made a difference.”
The hot streak shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Thomas is one of the better outside shooters in the Big 12, averaging 42.6 percent from three.
And Iowa State players view the corners the way most teams view the top of the key. Yet, K-State defenders were out of position to defend those shots, left hoping for a miss.
“We just had some defensive breakdowns at a bad moment and it cost us pretty big,” junior swingman Wesley Iwundu said. “In the part of the game like that, we needed a stop and we just couldn’t rotate over.”
Iowa State’s hot shooting spoiled what could have been a good day for K-State. The Wildcats opened with more energy than in recent games, taking a 14-8 lead 7:32 in.
They even battled back from a 60-45 deficit in the second half behind 22 points and nine rebounds from junior forward D.J. Johnson, cutting the score to 65-59 with on a Barry Brown layup with 4:17 remaining.
But just as Iowa State fans became nervous, the Cyclones responded with its shot of choice – a corner three from Cooke that ignited a 15-2 run.
Another defensive breakdown in another loss.
“It was just a couple plays here and there. That’s all it was,” Johnson said. “One or two plays. There is no way in hell it should have got to 19 points, but they pushed it up a little bit and left us behind. That is what good teams do.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett