Defense key for Kansas State basketball against TCU
Freshman Pack gave K-State a late lift against Omaha
MANHATTAN — Bruce Weber had serious doubts that he'd see Nijel Pack in Kansas State's starting lineup on Tuesday night, much less with a game on the line.
Not only was Pack there at the beginning, but also at the end when the Wildcats needed him most.
After spraining his ankle during practice two days before, Pack was limited to 24 minutes against Omaha. And yet, when the game went down to the wire, he begged not only to get back in the fray, and also to guard the Mavericks' Ayo Akinwole, who had lit K-State up all game.
Akinwole, who led his team with 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting, was limited to one basket and two free throws down the stretch as the Wildcats escaped with a 60-58 victory. During that same time, Pack hit two jump shots and came up with a key steal defensively.
"(Monday) morning, I did not think he was going to have a chance to get in there," said Weber, whose Wildcats return to Big 12 play at 1 p.m. Saturday against TCU in Bramlage Coliseum. "He's a gutsy young man and he loves to play and he wants to win. He's a winner.
"He made some big plays on the defensive end (and) made a couple of big shots for us, so you've got to be happy that he gutted it out and helped us find a way to win."
Pack's effort did not go unnoticed by his teammates, either.
"He was big-time tonight," sophomore guard DaJuan Gordon said of Pack, who at 9.9 points per game is the Wildcats' second-leading scorer. "He hit some big shots. He was hurt, but he came in and told the coaches he wanted (Akinwole), and he came in and played great defense on him.
"He's being a great player right now. That let us know that he's got our back no matter what. He's going to fight with us no matter what he's going through."
Pack wasn't the only factor as K-State averted the upset by an Omaha team that fell to 2-8. The Wildcats locked down defensively, forcing three turnovers in the final two minutes and limiting the Mavericks to two free throws over the last 3:16.
"I think we stayed in front of the ball late in the game," said Gordon, who had 10 rebounds and three steals. "We just played good defense at the end of the game and stopped the ball."
The victory over Omaha was the Wildcats' fourth in the last five games. They're now 5-5 overall and 1-1 in the Big 12 heading into the TCU game, while the Horned Frogs come in at 8-2, 1-1 in the league.
"They've been in two really close games in the league," Weber said of the Frogs, who opened Big 12 play with an 82-78 loss to Oklahoma on Dec. 6, but beat Oklahoma State on the road, 77-76, 10 days later. "We're obviously going to have to play better and do a better job defensively, be a little more efficient, and obviously it helps to make shots."
TCU is led in scoring by junior guard RJ Nembhard with 18.4 points per game, though he missed Wednesday's 66-61 victory over Prairie View A&M with a groin injury. Freshman guard Mike Miles is averaging 15.2 points and junior forward Kevin Samuels 10.8 points and 10.2 rebounds.
Senior Mike McGuirl leads K-State with a 12.4-point average.
TCU AT KANSAS STATE
Tipoff: 1 p.m., Saturday, Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan.
Records: TCU 8-2 (1-1 Big 12), Kansas State 5-5 (1-1).
TV/Radio (Salina): ESPNU/Topeka: WIBW-AM (580); Salina: KSAL-AM (1150).
Next up for K-State: at Texas Tech, 6 p.m. Tuesday, United Supermarkets Arena, Lubbock, Texas