One word was written on the white board in the Kansas State locker room over and over again Tuesday night. Paint. Paint. Paint. Head coach Jerome Tang and the Wildcats knew they had a size advantage inside against Abilene Christian and wanted to remind their group to take advantage of it.
So the perfect shooting night of forward David N’Guessan , who shot a perfect 9 for 9 from the floor during Tuesday’s 81-64 win over ACU was the product of an emphasis on paint touches and the passing display from Markquis Nowell and the Kansas State guards.
N’Guessan got Kansas State’s scoring started with a layup in the game’s opening minute, and continued to have his nose around the rim throughout the night. Time after time, the Dutch forward was found running the floor on secondary breaks and cutting to the rim in Kansas State’s half-court offense.
Most of the shots that N’Guessan made weren’t of the hardest variety, but the ease with which they came was in large part a product of his effort in getting to an easy spot to finish.
“He went 9 for 9, but you’ve gotta credit our guards for throwing him the ball,” said head coach Jerome Tang, who made multiple mentions of the great passing during Kansas State’s 81-64 win over Abilene Christian. “He probably could’ve been 11 for 14 because he turned down some rolls where he was open, he caught it and didn’t go up and try to score, but our guards kept throwing him the ball.”
Before Tuesday, N’Guessan’s career high in points was 15, coming in Virginia Tech’s season-opener last season. He surpassed that mark with 23 points Tuesday night despite a lackluster 4-for-11 performance at the free throw line.
Limited opportunity offensively both at Virginia Tech and throughout the first eight games this season has made nights like Tuesday a rarity. As a Hokie, the 6-foot-9 forward was stuck behind all-conference players in Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts. At Kansas State, the typical shot distribution hierarchy falling in some order of Nowell, forward Keyontae Johnson and forward Nae’Qwan Tomlin means N’Guessan serving as the game leader in scoring is unlikely to be duplicated often.
Still, Tang expressed optimism that production similar to it could be a possibility when the opportunity eventually presents itself.
“At Virginia Tech he played behind two all-conference guys. It wasn’t that he was a bad player,” Tang said, “he was just stuck behind two all-conference guys. In the limited minutes that he played, we saw him do some really good things and thought given more minutes he could do more of those things.”
N’Guessan told reporters that despite the lack of shots and lack of scoring he’s kept confident in his abilities throughout his transition from Blacksburg to Manhattan.
“I just kept doing what coach is telling me to do,” he said. “They find me every time for easy layups. It feels great. It’s the reason I transferred, to be able to contribute more and help my team win more games.”
During the early portion of Tuesday night’s game, N’Guessan provided the only efficient offense for the Wildcats, who dug themselves a 38-24 deficit before overwhelming their Western Athletic Conference opponent into a significant hole in the points in the paint category. There, N’Guessan provided 16 of Kansas State’s 52 points in the paint.
“We had a big advantage in the paint in the first half, too,” said Tang following a 3-for-12 shooting performance from beyond the arc. “On the board I wrote paint, paint, paint before the game even started. That’s where our advantage was and I was very proud of our guys for continuing to go back to the well. Sometimes when you get a lead then you try to do other things. Today, we didn’t try to do other things.”
The efficient night for N’Guessan came during a game where Nowell was better as a passer than scorer. His 10th career double-double — and fifth during his time at Kansas State — contributed to a performance that saw K-State assist on 23 of its 31 made baskets.
The Wildcats rank highly nationally in assists per game as a group, in large part because of the play of Nowell, who found N’Guessan on the receiving end of four of his 12 assists and became the fastest player in Kansas State history to 200 assists in a career.
Part of unlocking N’Guessan comes from playing him as a small-ball five. The Virginia Tech transfer specifically mentioned Kansas State’s five-out system as something that frees him up more on the offensive end, producing a night like Tuesday.
“(Markquis) finds me all the time. My teammates are really making it easy for me,” said N’Guessan of Nowell’s ability to find cutters and set up easy shots. Kansas State ranks 40th in the nation in assists per game as a team with 16.5 per contest. “I think that’s the biggest difference for me.”
With Kansas State missing senior center Abayomi Iyiola against ACU, N’Guessan stepped into that role more during the minutes that KSU played without Tomlin on the floor.
“He’s a real mismatch playing the five because he’s so fast,” Tang said. “He can outrun 5s down the court, he can sprint out of ball screens and he’s starting to feel (confident)… I think he can shoot the 3. I believe that he can make plays from the high post on the short roll as teams make adjustments and it’s just going to give us more options and put the defense in a bind more moving forward.”
Continuing to find efficient scoring performances outside of Kansas State’s top three options will ultimately be the key to great offensive success for the Wildcats. Obviously a 23-point performance from N’Guessan is a bit of an outlier, but rewarding the energy and effort he provides on a night like Tuesday is a good start toward doing so.
“He does all the little things to help our team win and that’s why on nights like this he gets rewarded,” Nowell said of N’Guessan after KSU improved to 8-1 on the season. “He sets screens, he rolls hard and he gets on the glass. Any opportunity that we have to get him the ball we try to do that as much as possible.”