MANHATTAN, Kan. — 259 days after their 2019-2020 season was abruptly ended, the Kansas State men’s basketball team opened their anomalous 2020-2021 season in front of a handful of parents and media inside Bramlage Coliseum Wednesday in the inaugural Little Apple classic.
Their first test wasn’t going to be an easy one, as the Drake Bulldogs won 20 games a season ago, and Kansas State sported nine newcomers.
“They’re a veteran team,” said Kansas State Head Coach Bruce Weber on Drake. “And they have an experienced point guard. Obviously, Penn was really instrumental in the game.”
Drake never made things easy for Kansas State, forcing them into 14 turnovers, and held the Wildcats to 46% from the field.
Prior to the season opener, Head coach Bruce Weber said he was concerned with his defense, and it was easy to see why after the opening 20 minutes. K-State trailed 38-36, allowing Drake to shoot 15-of-30 from the field and lead by as many as seven in the opening period.
“This isn’t an excuse, it’s a fact, we haven’t been able to play five on five for about three weeks,” said Weber. “If we’re gonna beat people we can’t give up 80 points. We’ve got to be better defensively.”
But with as concerning as the defense was, the offense was cause for much optimism. Especially from K-State’s lone senior, Mike McGuirl, who tallied 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting in the first half alone. McGuirl would finish as the game’s leading scorer with 22 points.
“Mike has been a good player for us,” said Weber. “I’m happy for Mike, he’s worked really hard, but you’ve got to be a little more efficient for us as a team.”
And although McGuirl lead all scorers in the contest, he wasn’t pleased with his, or his team’s performance.
“We lost, so there’s no good or bad way to look at it, you only can just learn from it,” said McGuirl. “I made a lot of mistakes on defense, some other stuff I could’ve done well on offense, so I’ve got to improve, I’ve got to get better and I’ve got to help my teammates improve too.”
The second half started with a blaze for the Wildcats, as they would erase the small deficit and take a seven point advantage of their own, but Drake would battle back and retake the lead again with 10 minutes to play.
From there, Drake would hold a steady lead through much of the final minutes, aided by two separate 2-minute scoreless streaks by K-State.
“Credit to Coach, they mixed defenses,” said Weber. “They played something like two percent zone last year and they started in a zone. We’ve practiced against zone, but they kept us off balance switching defenses, keeping us out of sync a little bit, making us think. With a young, inexperienced team, the thinking probably cost us.”
Kansas State’s young core showed flashes of potential, but those flashes would quickly fade, overshadowed by a consistent performance on both ends from Drake.
Coach Weber had stated prior to the season opener that he wasn’t exactly sure what his team was going to look like until he saw it on the floor, and the consensus among media members is that the Wildcats were as advertised; a young group with plenty of potential, but much to develop.
“This was an eye-opener for us,” said Weber. “Welcome to college basketball.”
In game one, certainly a loss is frustrating, but K-State’s young players clearly learned a lot about themselves and where they stand now, as well as where they have to go.
“It’s disappointing, but at this point, right now, we’ve got a game on Friday,” said McGuirl. “It’s an opportunity. It’s a chance to bounce back and get a win against a good team.”
Kansas State will host former Big 12 rival Colorado on Friday in their Little Apple Classic finale at 7:30 p.m..