Freshmen lead the way as K-State hangs on to edge Milwaukee, 76-75

Arne Green
Salina Journal

MANHATTAN — Kansas State's newcomers put their best foot forward and clearly it was a step in the right direction

With three freshmen starters scoring in double figures and junior college transfer Rudi Williams providing a spark off the bench, the Wildcats survived a harrowing final 45 seconds Friday night to escape with a 76-75 victory over Milwaukee at Bramlage Coliseum.

A last-minute near-meltdown notwithstanding, it was a marked improvement over Tuesday's embarrassing double-digit loss to Division II Fort Hays State, and it put the promise of coach Bruce Weber's most heralded recruiting class front and center.

"Just really happy for our players," Weber said. "Obviously the last two games have been difficult. We've got such a young group."

With wing Selton Miguel and center Davion Bradford joining point guard Nijel Pack in the starting lineup next to sophomore DaJuan Gordon and senior Mike McGuirl, the Wildcats played just well enough to overcome a shaky finish and push their record to 2-4. It was the season opener for Milwaukee, which lost its first two games to COVID-19 issues.

K-State appeared to have the game well in hand when Bradford made two free throws to put his team up 76-69 with 44.3 seconds left. But the Wildcats missed two straight one-and-one opportunities that could have sealed the victory and Milwaukee made five straight from the line to pull within two.

Ironically, it was a missed free throw by the Panthers' Te'Jon Lucas with 6.3 seconds on the clock that led the Wildcats off the hook. After Pack missed two more foul shots — the second one intentionally — at 1.6 seconds, Mike McGuirl intercepted a long Milwaukee inbounds pass and ran out the clock.

Bradford had 18 points and seven rebounds to lead K-State, with Miguel adding 17 points, Williams 16 and Pack 12. McGuirl contributed 11 points and eight assists.

"It was just a lot of us just clicking and executing," Bradford said of the effort by the freshmen. "We had the hot hand tonight and kept feeding it to each other and kept doing our jobs.

"It wasn't really like a decision we were planning on making, it just happened. I'm proud of my guys, us as freshmen taking that role and coming up big tonight."

The Wildcats shot 54.7% from the field in the game, including 60.9 in the second half, and knocked down 10 of 22 3-point attempts. But they were outscored, 21-8, from the free-throw line, going 2 for 8 in the second half.

K-State finished the first half with an 8-2 run to lead 38-31 at the break. They briefly relinquished it when a Tafari Simms 3-pointer put Milwaukee up, 60-59, with 7:46 left.

But the Wildcats went back in front on a Bradford dunk off a McGuirl lob pass and a Miguel 3-pointer and held it the rest of the way.

DeAndre Gholston led Milwaukee with 15 points and six rebounds, while Grant Coleman had 14 points, including three free throws with 28.1 seconds left that K-State's lead to two. Lucas added 11 points and eight assists.

K-State spotted Milwaukee seven points to start the game, but answered with 14 straight of its own for a 14-7 advantage. There were four ties and five lead changes in the half before K-State surged before intermission.