Three takeaways from Kansas State’s victory over Florida in Big 12/SEC Challenge

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Kansas State’s basketball game against Florida was far from the challenge it was billed as when the Big 12 and SEC scheduled the matchup as part of their final conference crossover series.

The Wildcats dominated the Gators from start to finish on their way to a 64-50 victory in front of a sellout crowd at Bramlage Coliseum.

It was a mismatch from the start, with K-State jumping out to a 37-16 lead at halftime. Florida fought back with some early points in the second half, but the Wildcats maintained a comfortable lead the entire way.

Things were so out of hand in the final minutes that several K-State players seemed more focused on adding dunks to their highlight reels than making simple plays. The home crowd also mockingly performed the Gator chomp and chanted “SEC, SEC, SEC” to celebrate the triumph.

With the win, No. 5 K-State (18-3, 6-2 Big 12) gave itself some needed momentum before it returns to conference play on Tuesday at Kansas. The Gators (12-9, 5-3 SEC) will try to get back to their winning ways in their next game against Tennessee.

Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson both scored 13 points for the Wildcats.

Here are a few takeaways from the action:

Kansas State held Florida to 16 points in the first half

Jerome Tang and his team put on a defensive clinic in the opening 20 minutes of this game.

The Gators scored a measly 16 points before halftime and looked genuinely awful while doing so.

Credit the way K-State played on defense. It smothered Florida in the paint and on the perimeter while rarely giving up any offensive rebounds. Unlike earlier this week, when rebounding was a big problem during a loss at Iowa State, the Wildcats outrebounded the Gators 29-16 in the first half.

Without any second-chance opportunities for points, Florida players could do little more than shake their heads after missed shots. Those were plentiful. The Gators went 3 of 12 from three-point range and 3 of 17 from two-point range. Only four Florida players scored.

One more thing: Florida was held scoreless over the final 5 minutes, 30 seconds of the half.

K-State led 37-16 at that point; the game was essentially over because of the defense.

That was an encouraging development for the Wildcats, who have been known more for their offense than defense in recent games. This showed they can do both.

K-State gets its big man back

David N’Guessan returned to starting lineup for first time in a month on Saturday, and he played like he never left it.

The 6-foot-9 junior played a grand total of four minutes in K-State’s first eight conference games of the season as he dealt with an injury to his right foot/ankle, which left the Wildcats with a noticeable hole in their frontcourt. That was no longer the case with him playing at full strength against the Gators.

N’Guessan saw 19 minutes of action and made the most of them, finishing with nine points and one rebound.

The Wildcats did more than get by without N’Guessan in the lineup. They won six of their first eight Big 12 games with Abayomi Iyiola in the starting five and Ismael Massoud coming off the bench. So it’s not like they were lost without him. But his return was still most welcome for K-State.

One of K-State’s biggest weaknesses this season has been an inability to match up with opposing big men. In all three of the Wildcats’ losses, they allowed the other team to score at will around the basket. That didn’t happen against Florida, even though the Gators have 6-foot-11 big man Colin Castleton. K-State held him to 13 points and eight rebounds.

N’Guessan makes the Wildcats more versatile on the court while also adding valuable depth to the rotation. It will be interesting to see if K-State can reach a higher level with him playing in conference games.

Markquis Nowell flirts with history

No player in the history of K-State basketball has ever recorded a triple-double.

That almost changed on Saturday.

Nowell did a little bit of everything for the Wildcats and was within range of reaching double figures in three different statistical categories. But he fell painfully short with 13 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

Fans became aware of the achievement late in the game and began cheering every time he sent a pass to an open teammate, but the Wildcats didn’t make enough shots to get him 10 assists, nor was he able to grab 10 rebounds.

This was not the first time Nowell has flirted with a triple-double at K-State. Maybe he can pull off the achievement before the season ends.