'Disappointing': Four takeaways from Kansas State basketball's 72-64 loss to Illinois

Arne Green
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas State guard Markquis Nowell (1) goes to the basket against Illinois center Kofi Cockburn (21) during the first half Tuesday night's Hall of Fame Classic consolation game at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Mo.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On the first night of the Hall of Fame Classic, Kansas State dug an early hole against Arkansas and couldn't climb out.

In Tuesday's consolation game, the Wildcats hung right with No. 10-ranked Illinois and faded down the stretch.

The result, for the second straight night, was a 72-64 loss to a ranked opponent.

Illinois put on a 3-point shooting exhibition to gain separation midway through the second half and the Wildcats had no answer.

"Like any good team, they just made a couple of more plays than we did and we weren't able to get back in the game," said K-State forward Ismael Massoud, who finished with 13 points and a pair of steals. "That's just how it goes sometimes.

"We've got to learn from it, and that's it."

With Illinois seven-footer Kofi Cockburn dominating inside — he finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds — that opened the door on the perimeter for guard Alfonso Plummer, who came off the bench to pour in 21 points by knocking down 7 of 9 3-pointers.

K-State got a lift off the bench from junior point guard Markquis Nowell with a season-high 19 points — 11 in the first half — while Nijel Pack added 15.

Here are four takeaways from a game in which the Wildcats fell to 2-2 on the season heading into Sunday's 4 p.m. home game against North Dakota at Bramlage Coliseum:

Defending the three an issue

Maybe it was a preoccupation with big man Cockburn inside, but K-State did not get out on Illinois' perimeter shooters to coach Bruce Weber's satisfaction.

The Illini, who struggled from the 3-point line in a 71-51 loss to Cincinnati on Monday, were 12 of 26 against the Wildcats, including four in a pivotal 15-5 second-half blitz that proved to be the difference.

"You know Kofi's going to get stuff inside. He's such a monster," Weber said. "They do a good job of getting it to him.

"I thought we battled him (and) made him work, but when the other guys step up and make those plays, those are the things that make a difference. The kid comes off the bench and hits seven threes. We didn't make him dribble at all."

More:Too little, too late: Kansas State basketball punches back but comes up short against Arkansas

Nowell can be a sparkplug

The 5-foot-8 Nowell, a transfer from Little Rock, had his best game and kept K-State in it in the first half. He fearlessly attacked Illinois' big men inside, hitting 7 of 15 shots with just one 3-pointer, and also led the Wildcats in rebounding with six.

"My biggest thing is taking care of the basketball and showing coach that he can trust me with the ball in my hands and trying to make the right play while still being aggressive," Nowell said. "I'm trying to focus more on my assist-to-turnover ratio and try to up that."

Nowell's ball security was not a concern. He turned the ball over just once and the Wildcats had only four as a team. But his two assists and zero for Pack, was an area of concern for Weber, who wanted more from his point guards.

"We've got to get more assists," Weber said. "We cut down on the turnovers, but that's maybe because we took some too-quick shots. We've got to do a better job of getting assists. Our point guards had two assists between them and they had 19 shots, so that's a lot of shots."

The Wildcats had only nine assists as a team, led by Selton Miguel with four.

More:Illinois' second-half 3-point blitz too much for Kansas State basketball to overcome in 72-64 loss

Keeping the bigs on the floor

Cockburn was a handful, but K-State helped him out when centers Kaosi Ezeagu and Davion Bradford both were saddled with three fouls with over 14 minutes left while the Wildcats were up by a point.

They played a combined 30 minutes, forcing Weber to go to freshman Logan Landers as a third option. Ezeagu had four points and two rebounds in under 12 minutes, while Bradford scored just two with two rebounds.

"Davion by mid-December, hopefully we can get him going a little more," Weber said of Bradford, who missed time before the season opener with pneumonia. "Kaosi, we've got to keep him out of foul trouble so he can be a little more effective.

"Those guys have got to make progress. They've got to be a threat and we've got to have more patience to go to them."

A disappointing two days

Weber did not pretend to be pleased with the Wildcats' 0-2 showing in Kansas City, though neither did he act as if it was the end of the world.

"It's just disappointing but it's not over," he said. "A long way to go. We've got to take a big step here in the next couple of weeks.

"I thought we battled, but you didn't come here just to battle. I still believe we're a good team. I've got to keep them believing that."