'We've got to take a big step': Kansas State basketball looks to rebound from back-to-back losses

Arne Green
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas State forward Ismael Massoud (25) defends against Arkansas' Chris Lykes (11) during Monday's Hall of Fame Classic game at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Mo.

MANHATTAN — Bruce Weber wanted an early test for his Kansas State basketball team and that's exactly what he got last week at the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

What he learned from back-to-back 72-64 losses to No. 15-ranked Arkansas and No. 14 Illinois was that the still have work to do in order to compete at an elite level. By the same token, they weren't all that far off.

"It's just disappointing, but it's not over," Weber said after watching the Wildcats spot tournament champion Arkansas an 18-point halftime advantage on Monday before making a late run, and then wilting down the stretch the following night against Illinois. "I still believe we're a good team.

"We've got to take a big step here in the next couple of weeks. We've got to make improvement."

The next chance to do that comes at 4 p.m. Sunday, when the Wildcats (2-2) play host to North Dakota at Bramlage Coliseum. They then entertain Albany on Wednesday night before going on the road to face Wichita State.

"This adversity was good for us," said sophomore forward Ismael Massoud, who bounced back from a no-show performance in the Arkansas game to score 13 points against Illinois. "Playing two top top-25 teams four games into the season back-to-back is something we definitely needed, and we're definitely going to go back, learn from watching film and try to get better every day in practice and every game.

"It's definitely a great learning tool for us. Obviously we wanted to come out and win a championship (in Kansas City), but every loss is a lesson at the same time, so we've just got to learn from it."

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

Junior point guard Markquis Nowell, a transfer from Little Rock, came off the bench to lead the Wildcats with 19 points and six rebounds against Illinois. Sophomore Nijel Pack added 15 points and leads the team through four games with a 15.5-point average.

"Markquis comes off the bench and obviously gives us a nice boost of energy," Weber said of Nowell, who also had 10 points in the Arkansas game, raising his scoring average to 11.5 — second only to Pack.

But while the two point guards have been the Wildcats' most reliable scoring threats, they combined for just two assists — both by Nowell — in the Illinois game.

"The offense is really stagnant right now," Nowell said. "We're not executing at a very high level, but it's game four of the season, so we're not really too depressed or mad about how things are going.

"It's going to come. It's a long road. If we would have won these two games it would have never determined our season. We've just got to get back to the drawing board and do what we know is best for us and get better."

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

Next up is a 2-4 North Dakota team that has lost three straight. The Fighting Hawks played four games in Florida last week — three at the Paradise Classic in Boca Raton, followed by a visit to Miami to take on Florida International.

Junior guard Caleb Nero leads North Dakota in scoring with 13.3 points per game and assists with 3.0. Mitchell Sueker, a 6-foot-9 senior forward, adds 11.3 points.

For K-State, Pack is the only player to reach double figures in all four games. Massoud, who is third on the team with an 8.3-point average, was shut out against Arkansas, while (8.0 ppg) failed to score in the Illinois game.

"Each game we've had one or two guys not really give us anything," Weber said. "We've got to get a little more consistency from some guys."

Nowell, for one, isn't overly concerned.

"I feel like our potential is very high as long as we stick together, correct our flaws and do what our coach asks us," he said. "I think we're going to be good in the long run.

"We're not dwelling on the two losses because we know that adversity is going to strike and we'd rather it be in the beginning of the season than at the end of the season."