There are 8 minutes, 35 seconds left in the first half. The score sits at 30-14, advantage K-State, and Bill Self just used his third timeout.
All of the momentum, all of the flow, all of the confidence was residing with the Powercats. The Blizzarding-out, Purple faithful. They were rocking. They were shaking. They were making a helluva lot of noise. Their boys couldn't miss, particularly the perimeter duo of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente. The blowout was on to a win they badly need for their NCAA portfolio. After losing 24 straight to the Kansas Jayhawks in Manhattan, they were about to start a streak of their own; 2, after winning last season.
But then, something changed. In a time of utter desperation, where Kansas needed somebody, anybody to step up, Sherron Collins picked up his second foul. Cole was virtually nonexistent. The two players we had looked up to all season long to pick us up when were down weren't there, at least for the time being. No, someone else needed to pick up the baton and start running. Someone to give us life.
And who gave us life? Marcus Morris.
Brady sinks a three, McMorris puts in a two-point layup, and Morris dish led to a Cole dunk. Seven quick points. After Clemente and Sherron exchanging threes, Morris went 1-2 from the FT line, then dished off to his brother for another dunk. Then, Morris picked up his second steal, dishing off to Tyshawn for a dunk. Another Morris pokeaway, which leads to another fastbreak bucket. Then, the capper.
Down 35-38, Marcus found himself oh-so-wide-open right at the three-point line.
Tie game, which pretty much meant game over. Sure, K-State went on it's fair share of runs the rest of the game, including immediately following Morris' three. But, a Brady Morningstar trey as the first half clock ran down re-gave us all of the momentum. Everything the Powercats had going for them was now gone, and the second half was to be simply a talent-on-talent contest. And while K-State does have plenty of it(particularly Jake "I save my best for the Jayhawks" Pullen and Denis "Dis my house" Clemente), their talent doesn't compare to ours.
When we were given life, mostly by an incredible performance from Marcus Morris, the game was all-but-over.
Player-by-players after the jump...
- Game MVP isn't even a question, baby. Marcus Freakin' Morris. He wasn't perfect, especially in the early-going, but that's the best either Morris has played all year long. I thought that their four-or-five game stretch prior to the Missouri game was their breaking-out, but then they both played pretty awful in Columbia. However, Marcus re-emerged Saturday afternoon in Manhattan. He was awesome at just about everything, really, playing really sound D (3 steals, including pick-pocketing Clemente IIRC), moving the ball really well (4 assists) and being active on the boards (7 of 'em, including 3 on the offensive end). Oh, and 15 points, too, including a three. Don't wanna forget about that. He was the most important player in the game, and that isn't just normalizing for past performance and expectations and all of that. The last 8:34, or whatever, of the first half, he was the best player on the floor. The best compliment he received, though, is when he played like 16 minutes in the second half. Besides giving him rest and at the very, very end when we were just shooting the free throws, he was always in there. Always, always, always. Self didn't want any part of a three-man rotation between him, Kieffer and Mario 2.0. Nuh-uh. McMorris all the way.
- While he struggled in the early-going, including airballing a 14-footer early on, Cole Aldrich was the best player in the second half. During K-State's most realistic run in the second half, when they cut it all the way to 67-65, we went to Cole three straight trips down the floor. The result? 7 points, a 74-70 score, and the game never got down to 2 again. His D was good, not as dominating as against Mizzou but still really good. This time, though, his offense was the side that really dominated. K-State had no answer coming in, and when we really, really need buckets, there was no question where we were going.
Sherron Collins, despite still not having his shot completely, played quite well, really. He still is turing the ball over a bit too much, and his three-point shot is still struggling, but he gets to the rim almost at will. His fifty-foot alley-oop to Cole was pretty incredible, so that gives him some extra points. It is odd, though, that he can play as well as he did on Saturday and yet I am nitpicking for his 2-5 from three-point range and 5 turnovers. Us, as a fanbase, are awfully hard on him; think, though, where we would be without him. I think an NIT invite would have been our ceiling, really, on a Sherron-less Kansas team.
Brady Morningstar, after not being able to buy a basket against Missouri, had a stellar game. One of his best of the season, offensively, really. All three of his first half threes were incredibly needed; the first two during a time where we really couldn't get much of anything done offensively, and the last one as the clock ran out to give us the momentum heading into the second half. His fourth three didn't occur at such an absolutely crucial time, but still: when his threes are falling, it is awfully hard to beat us. Defensively, he did a fabulous job on Fred Brown. I'd have put him on Denis Clemente, but I suppose Bill was fine with letting Clemente get his as long as that's all they got, which is pretty close to what happened. And Brown was virtually non-existent, so that was good to see.
- Going back to Clemente, Tyrel Reed was just absolutely wasted defensively. Clemente did whatever he pleased while Tyrel was out there, and I don't think he should have seen the floor in the second half. He's made progress since the beginning of the year with his feet, but they still aren't nearly quick enough to keep up with such a speedy player like Clemente. Offensively, he didn't do too much at all. He hit all of his throws, which is good, and he did drain that one huge three (shocking, I know) after the Clemente T that grew the lead to 7, which was nice. But that's about it; other than that, he was not very often seen or heard from offensively. And on defense, his name was mentioned over-and-over-and-over: because he was beat, of course.
Mario Little and Markieff Morris both played average games. Neither was terribly efficient offensively, and Kieffer was close to awful, while neither was too hot on defense, with Mario 2.0 being the one who was toasted. Little's behind-the-back pass was pretty sweet, and the box score has him at 3 assists, which is at least a positive. Nothing to write home about, and I'd bet he loses his starting slot back to McMorris, but better overall than Kieffer, whose offensive "highlight" was getting the shit blocked out of a ball he should have dunked. Quintrell Thomas was fine, and his offensive rebound was impressive. That's about it. He still isn't ready to contribute for any significant stretch, but he is a fine 5th big to be used in extreme cases of foul trouble and/or terrible play, and next year he could see a significant spike if Cole jumps to the NBA.
- Tyshawn Taylor had an interesting game, to say the least. On one hand, he wasn't half-bad on defense, and did a pretty good job on Clemente. On the other hand, he wasn't too often seen on offense, and he did foul out. All-in-all, an OK performance from T-Squared. However, I do wish that some of his playing time (particularly in the second half) would've gone to...
Tyrone Appleton. Strangely, I was incredibly impressed with Appleton, and thought he played the best defense of anyone on Clemente all afternoon long. He moved his feet, stayed in front of Clemente and, IIRC, Clemente didn't score once in Appleton's five minutes. Appleton didn't do anything on offense, but neither did TyTay, and Appleton was the better defender. If I were NCHCBS, I would've given Tyrone plenty of second half PT, if for nothing else than to reward him for his superior D. If he started to struggle, no-harm-no-foul, and just put back in Relly Ice or T-Squared. Hopefully, if both Tyshawn and Tyrel struggle again in a game, Tyrone sees more PT. He deserves it, from what I saw on Saturday.
- Finally, and I do know that there are only so many minutes to go around, I'd really like to see Travis Releford get more minutes, at least against run-and-gun teams. He did only go 2-4 from the free throw line, which can't help, but he looks much more active on offense than either Tyrel or Tyshawn. He is a really good offensive rebounder for his size, and is a damn good slasher without the ball. And, best of all, his D is monumentally better than it was at the beginning of the season. Not a lot of minutes, but I'd like him to get around 10 minutes a pop, more if he is outplaying either Tyrel or Tyshawn.
OK, that's all. The Big 12 Roundup, supersized because we missed last week, is upcoming later on tonight.