Wildcats' D leads way to signature W
By ARNE GREEN
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The Telegram
MANHATTAN — The esthetics can wait.
To the Kansas State Wildcats, thirsting for a signature victory, the final scoreboard snapshot was a thing of beauty.
The Wildcats overcame an ugly offensive performance with gritty defense and rebounding, plus made just enough shots down the stretch Thursday night to hold off previously unbeaten Mississippi, 61-58, in front of an appreciative crowd at Bramlage Coliseum.
"It's a huge win for us, no doubt," said K-State coach Bruce Weber, whose Wildcats improved to 5-3. "We fought and toughed it out."
K-State led much of the way but needed a 12-5 finish to rally past Ole Miss (6-1) in their edition of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. A 9-1 run sparked by guard Marshall Henderson, and followed by inside baskets from LaDarius White and Demarco Cox put the Rebels in front, 53-49, with 4:18 left.
But Thomas Gipson and Marcus Foster, who led the Wildcats with 15 points each, combined to score the next eight points and give their team the lead for good with under 1 1/2 minutes to go.
Gipson got a three-point play that cut it to one and Foster made the second of two free throws to tie it with 2:48 left. Foster then put K-State in front by a point by hitting the first of two from the line, and at the 1:22 mark drained a corner 3-pointer from in front of his own bench that made it 57-53.
"I didn't even think about it," Foster said of the 3-pointer, which came on a set play off a pass from Will Spradling. "I just shot it like there was nobody in the gym."
The Wildcats still had to hold off a potential game winner at the end from Henderson, who despite a difficult shooting night gave Ole Miss a shot by knocking down a three with 28.8 seconds left that cut the lead to one.
Spradling stepped to the line at 15.1 seconds and missed his first free throw and hit the second for a 60-58 advantage and Henderson launched one from behind the arc that didn't draw iron.
Only when Wesley Iwundu snatched the rebound with 1.1 second on the clock, hit a free throw and rebounded his miss of the second could the Wildcats celebrate.
"It's a good feeling, especially since we lost early games that we were supposed to win," Gipson said, referring to a season-opening loss at home to Northern Colorado and a first-round setback against Charlotte in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. "I think this is going to be a good one for our resume once we go into March.
"I just like the fact that we played as a team and were unselfish."
The Wildcats had little margin for error after shooting 36.5 percent from the field for the game and going 13 for 27 at the free-throw line in the second half. But they also limited Mississippi to 37.9 percent from the floor — 33.3 after intermission — and held most of the Rebels' top weapons in check.
Guard Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss' leading scorer for the season, finished with 18 points on 6 of 9 shooting, but Henderson made just 4 of 18 shots — 2 of 13 from 3-point range — for his 13 points.
"We had similar games with Northern Colorado and Charlotte, games where you miss free throws but now you don't go to the other end and you don't make the plays at the defensive end.
"When you hold a team like (Ole Miss) to 29 points each half, 58 is 20-some points under their average ... this is about a gut check and making some plays."
In addition to Gipson and Foster, Iwundu finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, leading K-State to a 43-38 advantage on the boards. Shane Southwell made just 2 of 10 shots for eight points, but hit a big one inside with 36 seconds left and also finished with four assists.
K-State led 31-29 at halftime and by as many as five in each half. The Wildcats are at home again Tuesday for a 7 p.m. game against South Dakota.