"I'm not real happy about it," said coach Jim Wooldridge. "I think we let our guard down a little bit, and then we played sporadically throughout the second half.You would like to seem your team play better in the second half with that kind of lead."
The aforementioned poor second half play was keyed by eight second half Wildcat turnovers and sending the Panthers to the charity stripe line 15 times, after a first half where the Panthers didn't attempt a single free throw.
Senior Jeremiah Massey seemed to agree with his coach's assessment. "We played good at times," Massey said, "But tonight we played pretty bad." The good times Massey mentioned came early, as the Wildcats started the game looking ready to put their fist loss of the season behind them in grand fashion.
Pressure defense and strength near the basket helped the Wildcats jump out to an early 13-4 lead. "We disrupted what Eastern Illinois wanted to do on the offensive end," said Wooldridge. "I thought we did a real good job in the first half of taking them out of some things that they wanted to do."
K-State held on to a double-digit lead until a 6-0 Eastern Illinois with 5:50 left in the first half left the score at 26-20. Fortunately for the Wildcats, Lance Harris had the answer. Harris knocked down 3-pointers on the next two Wildcat possessions, sparking a 10-0 K-State run.
"He hit some pretty big shots," Wooldridge said of Harris. "Hopefully he can keep gaining confidence and play even better as we move into January and February."
This offensive spark seemed to fuel the defense as well. A few possessions later, the swarming Wildcat defense did not allow the Panthers to even attempt a shot before the shot clock expired. When the clock read 0:00 for the first half, K-State had finished on a 15-2 run.
With one non-conference game remaining before the Wildcats begin Big 12 competition, both players and coaches know that the team still needs to take care of some matters before league play begins.
"Yeah there really is (a sense of urgency to take care of things)," Wooldridge said. "We know we have to work out the kinks and everything before Big 12 play," said Fred Peete.
One kink seemingly worked out since the Rutgers loss was the scoring of Jeremiah Massey. Massey bounced back to score a team-high 24 points, including 19 in the second half. Massey noted that his consistency has not been where it should be.
"Up to now in the season I have been an inconsistent player," Massey said. "I just feel I have to be more consistent to help my team win."
One concern with Massey continues to be his ankle, which was injured earlier in the year against Wyoming and which Massey seemed to favor is various spots against Eastern Illinois.
"I wouldn't say I'm 100 percent," Massey said, when asked about his health. "My ankle has been bothering me a little bit, but it's getting a lot better."
When asked to go into further detail on his condition, Massey said, "I would say about 75 (percent). My ankle has been pretty sore." One Wildcat that had another solid scoring outing was Cartier Martin, scoring 16, second on the team behind Massey.
"His play has been very consistent over the last couple of weeks," Wooldridge said. "I think he's really making some good strides for us." With just one non-conference game left, the Wildcats are still struggling to put together a solid effort for two halves of basketball. The game against Central Missouri State could have a greater bearing on Big 12 competition than it would initially seem.
The team has shown that they are at their best when the shots come out of the offense sets and the defense is tight and quick to help. The Wildcats really need one night of consistent play and continuous movement on both ends of the floor for two solid halves.
A truly convincing victory against Central Missouri State could go a long way in establishing the confidence and chemistry the Wildcats need in beginning a strenuous Big 12 schedule that opens away from Bramlage.
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