Kansas State expected to play three challenging games in the Maui Invitational.
It ended up with four.
Though the Wildcats’ 83-73 victory over UMKC on Monday at Bramlage Coliseum was only a lead-in game to the tournament’s main bracket, it was every bit as competitive as the matchups that will be played next week in Maui.
UMKC, coming off a 69-61 road victory over Missouri, led K-State at halftime. Behind a confounding zone defense and some hot outside shooting, the Kangaroos raced to a 26-15 lead midway through the first half and took a 40-36 lead into the locker room at halftime.
“It was a good test for us,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “We knew they were going to be good. I thought they were even better in the first half here than they were in the Missouri game. They took it to us every which way those first 10 minutes. We didn’t have many answers for them.”
That changed in the second half when Weber made some adjustments with a small lineup and the Wildcats fought back for a comfortable victory. The moment Marcus Foster hit a three-pointer that put K-State up 48-46 with 15:58 for its first lead since the opening minutes, momentum permanently shifted to the home team.
The Wildcats never trailed again, and Thomas Gipson and Foster were the main reasons why.
Gipson, a senior forward, continually found open space inside against UMKC’s zone, scoring 21 points and grabbing nine rebounds. He was most effective at the free-throw line, making nine of 10 foul shots.
“Gip was rock solid for us,” Weber said. “He has been rock solid the whole time. It’s great. He is playing like a senior.”
While Gipson drew attention inside, Foster found room outside and shot K-State into the lead by making four three-pointers on his way to 16 points.
“Coach Weber made some adjustments going small with four shooters surrounding Gipson, who we all know is a load,” UMKC coach Kareem Richardson said. “They emphasized getting the ball inside early and got us in foul trouble. Gipson did a great job posting up in there.”
The Wildcats opened the game with a big lineup that featured 6-foot-11 forward Stephen Hurt, as well as Jevon Thomas, Justin Edwards, Gipson and Foster. But they were at their best with an extra guard or wing on the floor instead of two big men, turning to Nigel Johnson and Wesley Iwundu.
Backup forward Brandon Bolden, who stole the show with highlight plays against Southern Utah, didn’t even play.
Weber preferred the smaller look for defensive purposes, but it paid dividends on both ends.
Johnson, who scored 12 points, came off the bench and made several important shots, including a fast-break layup that put K-State up 64-53. On the play, Johnson stole a UMKC pass at midcourt and outran two defenders to the basket. He also sank a three that kept K-State ahead by double digits with 3:01 remaining.
Edwards had 15 points, including a late game-clinching dunk. Iwundu, playing in his first game of the season after an injury, provided stout defense.
Still, UMKC, 1-1, found ways to score. Martez Harrison led the Kangaroos with 21 points.
“UMKC is a great team,” Foster said. “We respected them the second we saw them on film. This is the type of team we are going to face in Maui.”
They made things much harder for K-State, 2-0.
It was a worthy warm-up test for the Wildcats before they travel to Long Beach State on Friday and then take on Purdue in the next stage of the Maui Invitational.
“I didn’t want to lose,” Gipson said. “I told (my teammates) at halftime, ‘You think it’s bad now? If we end up losing that is going to look bad on us.’ We didn’t want that. I just put the team on my shoulders and came out in the second half and played hard, trying to make a statement. Everyone followed through.”
To reach Kellis Robinett, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @KellisRobinett.