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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Key Run Lifts No. 14/15 Illinois Past K-State, 72-64

Courtesy of K-State Athletics

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – No. 14/15 Illinois broke open a tight contest with a decisive 21-7 run midway through the second half, which included five 3-point field goals, to pull away from Kansas State on Tuesday night in the consolation game of the Hall of Fame Classic in front of 7,255 at the T-Mobile Center.

A night after shooting just 28.1 percent from the field, including 13.6 percent from 3-point range, in a loss to Cincinnati, the Fighting Illini (3-2) seemed to make every shot against the Wildcats (2-2), as they connected on 52.1 percent (25-of-48) from the field, including 12 makes from 3-point range on 46.2 percent (12-of-26) shooting. Seven of those 12 triples came from fifth-year senior Alfonso Plummer, who finished the night with 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 7-of-9 from long range.

The Illini’s 3-point efficiency came on top of a dominant performance from their All-American center Kofi Cockburn, who finished the night with game-highs in both points (23) and rebounding (13).

K-State, on the other hand, couldn’t find any offensive rhythm, connecting on just 38.5 percent (25-of-65) from the field, including 28.6 percent (6-of-21) from 3-point range, with just 9 assists on 25 made field goals. After shooting 44.8 percent (13-of-29) to help close the deficit to 34-31 at the half, the Wildcats couldn’t sustain that output in the second half, shooting just 33.3 percent (12-of-36) from the field, including 23.1 percent (3-of-13) from long range.

Junior reserve Markquis Nowell had his best night as a Wildcat, coming off the bench to score a team-high 19 points on 7-of-15 field goals to go with team-best in rebounds (6) and steals (2) in 25 minutes. He was joined in double figures by sophomores Nijel Pack (15) and Ish Massoud (13). The trio combined for 47 of the Wildcats’ 64 points, as the rest of the team managed just 17 points on 8-of-26 shooting, including 1-of-7 from 3-point range.

After falling behind by as many as 7 points in the first half, the Wildcats seemed to find some momentum in the early part of the second half, rattling off 6 straight points to open the half for a 37-34 lead and force a timeout by Illinois head coach Brad Underwood at the 17:56 mark.

The Illini responded out of the timeout with 7 straight point to push back ahead, 41-37, at the 16:24 mark, but Massoud went on a 5-0 run himself, including a 3-pointer to give the Wildcats the lead at 42-41 with 14:40 to play.

However, consecutive 3-pointers from Plummer and fifth-year senior Jacob Grandison started a stretch of 9 consecutive points by Illinois, which turned into the larger 21-7 run, flipping the one-point deficit into as much as 13-point advantage in the second half. Plummer hit 3 of his game-high 7 3-pointers during this stretch.

K-State continued to fight despite the deficit, closing to within 68-62 with 2:14 to play behind the efforts of Nowell and Pack, who combined for 19 points in the second half. However, the Wildcats could not close the gap any further, as the Illini won their seventh straight in the series.

KEY STRETCH(ES)
Illinois went straight to its All-American center Kofi Cockburn in the early going, scoring the game’s first 5 points on a pair of free throws and an old fashioned 3-point play. K-State twice closed to within one possession, including 10-7 after a 3-pointer from sophomore Ish Massoud with 16:27 to play but the Fighting Illini responded with a triple of their own to take a 13-7 advantage into the first media timeout.

The Wildcats chipped away at the deficit, using a 9-1 run to take its first lead at 16-14 on a long 3-pointer by junior Markquis Nowell at the 10:50 mark. However, the Fighting Illini responded with 3 consecutive 3-pointers from graduate transfer Alfonso Plummer and back-to-back baskets by Cockburn to force head coach Bruce Weber to call a timeout at the 5:35 mark with the Wildcats trailing 29-22.

K-State closed out the half by scoring 9 of the last 14 points to cut the deficit to 34-31. Four Wildcats contributed in the spurt, including a spot-up 3 by senior Mike McGuirl.

The second half began with a series of runs, as K-State scored the first 6 points of the half to take a 37-34 lead before Illinois answered with a 7-0 run to flip the advantage to its side at 41-37 at the 16:24 mark.

A 5-0 spurt by Massoud gave the Wildcats a 42-41 edge with 14:40 to play but it was then that Fighting Illini took control with 9 straight points, which was ignited by a back-to-back 3-pointers from Plummer and graduate senior Jacob Grandison and followed by a layup by Grandison and a free throw by Cockburn.

Every time K-State seemed to get some momentum after the run, Illinois had an answer from long range, as the 9 straight points were part of a larger 21-7 run that flipped a tight game into a as much as a 13-point lead for the Fighting Illini in the second half.

The Wildcats continued to fight until the end, closing to within 68-62 after a pair of Nijel Pack free throws with 2:14 to play, but they couldn’t get any closer as the Illini finished it off with free throws.

PLAYER(S) OF THE GAME
Junior Markquis Nowell had his best night as a Wildcat, scoring a team-high 19 points on 7-of-15 field goals and 4-of-5 free throws to go with a team-high 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in 25 minutes.

Sophomore Nijel Pack continued his solid play to start the season with his fourth straight double-digit scoring game, posting 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting with 4 rebounds and 2 steals in 30 minutes.

STAT OF THE GAME
12 – Illinois knocked down 12 of 26 attempts from 3-point range, including 7 of 14 attempts in the second half. During the critical 21-7 run, the Fighting Illini hit on 5 triples to build as much as a 13-point lead.

IN THEIR WORDS
K-State Head Coach Bruce Weber
On the game…
“I thought we battled but you didn’t come here just to battle. We came up with some good pop at times. The kid (Alfonso Plummer) comes off the bench and hit seven threes. We don’t make them dribble at all. Credit to him, big shots. They made threes. They didn’t make threes last night. They made them tonight. We always take a lot of pride in being a good three point defensive team with hands and getting to the shooters. Kofi (Cockburn) is going to get stuff inside. He’s such a monster and they do a good job of getting it to him. I thought we battled him, made him work. But when the other guys step up and make those plays, those are things that make a difference. Markquis (Nowell) comes off the bench, obviously gives us a nice boost of energy. But a handful of plays, handful of possession, same as last night, better decisions. I still believe we’re a good team. I got to keep them believing that. We got to get better in these next couple of games and then we’ll have after the next two home games, we’ll have some tough games coming up so that every game is stuff we got to make improvement.”

BEYOND THE BOXSCORE
K-State goes 0-2 in the Hall of Fame Classic for the first time in 3 trips… The Wildcats are 6-4 all-time in the tournament, including 2-4 in games played in Kansas City.
K-State played its 201st game in Kansas City dating to 1926… The Wildcats are 115-86 mark in those contests, including 20-19 at the T-Mobile Center.
K-State is now 120-276 all-time vs. Top 25 opponents, including 72-196 vs. the Top 15… The Wildcats are 6-12 against the AP’s No. 14 team… Head coach Bruce Weber is now 27-65 vs. ranked teams at K-State.
Illinois owns a 9-2 advantage over K-State in the all-time series, including 7 straight wins dating back to 1981. This was the first meeting on a neutral court since the Wildcats knocked off the Fighting Illini, 57-52, in the NCAA Tournament on March 19, 1981, in Salt Lake City, which K-State’s last win in the series.
K-State used a starting lineup of sophomore Nijel Pack, fifth-year senior Mark Smith, sophomore Selton Miguel, sophomore Ismael (Ish) Massoud and junior Kaosi Ezeagu… This marked the third time using this lineup this season… Ezeagu, Massoud, Pack and Smith each started the first game… Pack has now started in all 28 games in his K-State career… Ezeagu earned a start in his 12th career game at K-State… Massoud now has 12 starts in his college career… Smith now has 84 starts in his college career.

Team Notes
K-State scored 64 points on 38.5 percent shooting (25-of-65), including 28.6 percent (6-of-21) from 3-point range, and connected on 88.9 percent (8-of-9) from the free throw line… The team shot 44.8 percent (13-of-29) in the first half before hitting on just 33.3 percent (12-of-36) in the second half.
K-State allowed Illinois to connect on an opponent-high 12 3-point field goals, including 7 in second half.
K-State forced 18 turnovers, including a season-high 11 steals, and converted those into a season-high 23 points off turnovers… The Wildcats also had a season-low 4 turnovers.
In addition to points off turnovers, K-State held advantages in points in the paint (28-24), second-chance points (9-8) and fast-break points (6-5).
K-State managed just 9 assists on 25 made field goals.
K-State trailed at the half for the second straight game, falling behind as much as 7 points in the first half before rallying to within 34-31… Sophomore Markquis Nowell scored 11 points off the bench.

Player Notes
Junior Markquis Nowell led the way for the first time this season, scoring 19 points off the bench on 7-of-15 field goals, including 1-of-5 from 3-point range, to go with a 4-of-5 effort from the free throw line… He also added a team-high 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in 25 minutes… It marked the 50th time in his college career he registered double figures.
Sophomore Nijel Pack registered double-digit points for the fourth consecutive game with 15 points on 6-of-14 field goals, including 1-of-4 from 3-point range, and a 2-of-2 effort from the line… He also added 4 rebounds and 2 steals in 30 minutes of action… He has now scored in double figures in 20 career games.
Sophomore Ish Massoud posted double figures for the second time in 3 games with 13 points on 4-of-10 field goals, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range and a 2-of-2 effort from the free throw line… He also added a team-tying 2 steals in a team-high 32 minutes.
Sophomore Selton Miguel dished out a season-best 4 assists and now leads the team with 12 on the year.

WHAT’S NEXT
K-State returns home to Bramlage Coliseum this weekend, as the Wildcats play North Dakota (2-3) on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., CT. The game will air on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ with Ben Boyle, Stan Weber and Katherine Bernhardt on the call.

Derek Nesterhttps://sunflowerstateradio.com
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2021 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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