MANHATTAN, Kan. – Texas A&M took advantage of its opportunities from the free throw line, including 11 consecutive makes to end the game, as the Aggies earned a 68-61 win over Kansas State in the eighth annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Saturday morning in front of a limited capacity crowd of 942 fans at Bramlage Coliseum.
With the victory, Texas A&M (8-7, 2-6 SEC) earned the SEC’s first win in the annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge, including the second in 3 seasons over K-State (5-13, 1-8 Big 12), which dropped its eighth game in a row.
The loss spoiled a near historic performance by Wildcat freshman guard Nijel Pack, who scored a season-high 26 points on 9-of-16 field goals, including an 8-of-14 effort from 3-point range, to go with 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals in just his second game back from missing 4 games due to COVID-19 protocols.
Pack’s 26 points are the most by a K-State freshman since Marcus Foster scored 34 against Texas in 2014.
Pack’s eight 3-point field goals tied for the second-most in a game in school history and are the most-ever by a Wildcat freshman. His 8 triples are only surpassed by Askia Jones’ school-record 14 against Fresno State on March 24, 1994, while Steve Henson (vs. Iowa State on February 17, 1990) and Cortez Groves (vs. Texas A&M on March 23, 2000) also had 8 treys in a game.
In a tight game marked by 8 lead changes and 4 ties in the second half, it was the more experienced Texas A&M team that was able to pull out the victory. Down 58-55 after Pack’s only 2-point field goal with 1:47 to play, the Aggies outscored the Wildcats, 13-3, down the stretch, including 11 consecutive makes from the free throw line.
Texas A&M connected on just 40.8 percent (20-of-49) from the field, including 42.9 percent (6-of-14) from 3-point range, but outscored K-State, 22-5, from the free throw line. The Aggies hit on 84.6 percent (22-of-26) from the charity stripe, including 90 percent (18-of-20) in the second half.
Seniors Jay Jay Chandler and Savion Flagg led a quartet of Aggies in double figures with 14 points each, as Flagg came off the bench to hit on 5-of-7 field goals and a 4-of-4 effort from the free throw line to go with game-high 8 rebounds. Sophomores Emanuel Miller and Andre Gordon finished with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Texas A&M packed the lane, limiting K-State’s paint touches and hampering freshman big Davion Bradford, who entered the game shooting 61 percent from the field. The Wildcats were forced into taking 35 3-point field goals – the fourth-most attempts in a game in school history – making double-digit treys (10) for the first time in Big 12 play. However, Pack and senior Mike McGuirl (2) combined for all 10 triples on 21 attempts, while the rest of the team was a combined 0-of-14 from long range.
Pack was joined in double figures by McGuirl, who finished with 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting to go with a game-high 6 assists, 2 steals and 3 rebounds in 38 minutes of action. Bradford was solid despite being limited to just 3 shot attempts, finishing with 9 points on 3-of-3 field goals and 3-of-4 free throws and a team-high 7 rebounds, while sophomore reserve Antonio Gordon added 8 points and 5 rebounds.
The Wildcats were once again hit with the injury bug, as the team played most of the game without sophomore starter DaJuan Gordon, who went down with an injury less than 5 minutes into the first half.
K-State is now 3-5 all-time in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge series, including a 3-1 mark in home games. The Wildcats have now lost 3 consecutive games in the Challenge, including its first loss at home.
Down 21-11 with 4:44 to play before halftime, K-State ended the first half on a 12-3 run, which was highlighted by a 3-pointer from McGuirl at the buzzer, to close to within 24-23 at the break. Antonio Gordon scored 6 points in the key stretch, which was started by a 3-pointer from Pack and capped by the triple from McGuirl.
A nip-and-tuck second half was highlighted by dueling 7-0 runs by each team, as the Wildcats opened the half with 7 consecutive points to take a 30-24 lead with 17:30 to play, while the Aggies responded with 7 straight of their own to retake the lead at 31-30 with 16:11 remaining.
The teams battled through numerous leads changes and 3 ties in the last 10 minutes of the game before Texas A&M took the lead for good with a pair of free throws from senior Quenton Jackson with 1:23 to play. From Flagg’s free throw that tied the game at 58-all with 1:39 to play, the Aggies finished the game with 11 consecutive makes from the free throw line to earn the 68-61 win.
PLAYER(S) OF THE GAME
Freshman Nijel Pack led all Wildcat scorers for the sixth time this season with a season-high 26 points on 9-of-16 field goals, including 8-of-14 from 3-point range, to go with 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals in 38 minutes. His eight 3-pointers tie for the second-most in school history and the most-ever by a freshman.
Senior Mike McGuirl posted his team-leading 12th double-digit scoring game with 10 points on 4-of-10 field goals, including a 2-of-7 effort from 3-point range, to go with a game-high 6 assists and 2 steals.
STAT OF THE GAME
22-5 – Texas A&M held a 22-5 advantage in free throw made, including 11 consecutive makes to end the contest. The Aggies connected 84.6 percent (22-of-26) from the line, including 90 percent (18-of-20) in the second half.
IN THEIR WORDS
K-State Head Coach Bruce Weber
On the game…
“I’m proud of our guys, obviously we came to win the game. We battled and gave ourselves a chance (to win). The beginning was not pretty, but we finally got things settled down and made some shots. Nijel (Pack) was special to go 8-of-14 from 3 and he kept coming up with big plays for us to keep us in the game and give us a chance. I thought Davion (Bradford) was really good, and then Mike McGuirl did what he needs to do. (He had) 10 points with six assists and did some good things. It would’ve been nice if we got a few other guys to make some shots. That would’ve helped, but we didn’t execute down the stretch and we haven’t been in a close game in a while. We lost the ball a couple times, didn’t execute when it mattered, and they did. I thought their older guys, (Savion) Flagg, (Jay Jay) Chandler, who has been a starter for a while stepped up, and then (Emanuel) Miller is a really good player. I thought our other guys stepped in, Antonio (Gordon) was really good and a nice boost off the bench and gave us some consistency, which we needed out of him. There’s not much you can say, I asked them to come with the right attitude, and I thought they were pretty focused despite what we’ve gone through.”
BEYOND THE BOXSCORE
- K-State is now 5-13 on the season… The team has now lost 8 consecutive games.
- K-State is now 3-5 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge series, including a 3-1 mark in home games… The Wildcats have now lost 3 consecutive games in the Challenge… It was the first loss at home in the Challenge.
- K-State finishes its non-conference season with a 4-5 record, which included 3 consecutive victories after a 1-4 start… The Wildcats had a winning non-conference record every season since 1971-72.
- K-State is now 115-13 in non-conference play at home venues (Bramlage Coliseum, T-Mobile Center and INTRUST Bank Arena) since the 2006-07 season, including a 106-11 mark at Bramlage Coliseum.
- Head coach Bruce Weber is now 82-31 in non-conference play at K-State, including a 63-11 mark at home.
- K-State went winless in the month of January (0-8) for the first time since the 1996-97 season (0-7).
- K-State is now 18-10 against Texas A&M, including 0-2 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge… The Aggies have now won 3 straight games in the series… This was the Aggies’ first win in 12 attempts in Manhattan, including the first in 10 tries at Bramlage Coliseum.
- The Wildcats’ starting lineup consisted of senior Mike McGuirl, sophomore DaJuan Gordon, freshman Nijel Pack, sophomore Kaosi Ezeagu and freshman Davion Bradford… This is the second straight game using this lineup and the seventh lineup employed this season… McGuirl has now started all 18 games this season and has the longest current active start streak at 23 games… Pack has started all 14 games in which he has played… Gordon has now started 17 of 18 games.
- K-State had its full complement of 13 players for the second consecutive game.
- K-State scored its 61 points on 41.1 percent (23-of-56) shooting, including 28.6 percent (10-of-35) from 3-point range, while connecting on 55.6 percent (5-of-9) from the free throw line.
- Texas A&M scored is 68 points on 40.8 percent (20-of-49) shooting, including 42.9 percent (6-of-14) from 3-point range, while connecting on 84.6 percent (22-of-26) from the free throw line.
- K-State’s 35 3-point field goal attempts were the fourth-most in school history and the most since posting a school-record tying 37 at Oklahoma on Jan. 4, 2020.
- K-State connected on double-digit 3-pointers for the fourth time this season, including the first time since posting a season-high 11 vs. Jacksonville (12/29/20).
- K-State had just 11 turnovers after posting 20 or more in 3 consecutive games.
- Texas A&M held a 35-30 advantage on the boards, but K-State did take advantage of its second-chance opportunities, converting its 9 offensive rebounds in 16 second-chance points.
- Texas A&M outscored K-State, 32-12, from the bench.
- Texas A&M held a 24-23 lead at halftime which included a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Mike McGuirl.
- K-State is now 0-12 on the season when trailing at the half.
- Freshman Nijel Pack led the Wildcats with a season-high 26 points on 9-of-16 field goals, including 8-of-14 from 3-point range, to go 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals in 38 minutes… It was his first career 20-point game… He has now scored in double figures in 8 games, including 4 in Big 12 play… It marked the sixth time leading the team in scoring… It marked his eighth game of at least 5 assists.
- Pack’s 8 3-point field goals tie for the second-most in school history and are the most-ever by a true freshman… His 8 triples are only surpassed by Askia Jones’ school-record 14 vs. Fresno State on March 24, 1994, while Steve Henson (vs. Iowa State on Feb. 17, 1990) and Cortez Groves (vs. Texas A&M on March 23, 2000) also had 8 3-pointers in a game.
- Pack’ 14 3-point field goals attempted ties for the sixth-most in school history and the first most since Marcus Foster had 14 at Tennessee on Dec. 6, 2014.
- Senior Mike McGuirl scored 10 points on 4-of-10 field goals, including 2-of-7 from 3-point range, to go with a game-high 6 assists and 2 steals in 38 minutes… He has now scored in double figures in 22 career games, including a team-leading 12 this season… He has led the team in assists in 9 games this season.
- Freshman Davion Bradford nearly tallied a double-double with 9 points on 3-of-3 field goals and 3-of-4 free throws to go with a team-high 7 rebounds and 2 blocks in 29 minutes… He has now led the team in rebounding in 6 games, while he has been the leader in blocks in 5 games.
- Sophomore Antonio Gordon enjoyed a solid game off the bench with 8 points on 3-of-6 field goals and 2-of-2 free throws to go with 5 rebounds and an assist in 19 minutes.
K-State opens the month of February on Tuesday night, as the Wildcats make the short trek east to take on archrival and No. 15/18 Kansas (11-5, 5-4 Big 12) in the Dillons’ Sunflower Showdown at 7 p.m., CT on the Big 12 Now. This will be the first of two meetings in a 2-week stretch, as K-State welcomes Kansas to Bramlage Coliseum on Feb. 16. The Jayhawks have won 14 in a row against the Wildcats at home, including 81-60 win on Jan. 21, 2020.