MANHATTAN, Kan. - The Marquette men's basketball team is in the midst of a daunting schedule in December.
If victories are in their grasp during this six-game stretch against tough teams, the Golden Eagles have to hold on to them.
MU did that on Wednesday night, grinding out a 64-63 nail-biter over Kansas State at Bramlage Coliseum in a game that could have easily slipped away from the revamped Golden Eagles.
BOX SCORE: Marquette 64, Kansas State 63
Oso Ighodaro sealed the first road victory for the Golden Eagles (8-2) this season by swatting away Ismael Massoud's layup attempt for the Wildcats (5-3) in the waning seconds.
"On the film, the guy liked to go baseline and reverse," Ighodaro said. "So I just tried to make a play on the ball and we got out of there with a win."
It was a scrappy victory for a team with nine newcomers that is learning how to win under new head coach Shaka Smart. The Golden Eagles looked wobbly when the Wildcats came out of the second half on a 7-0 blitz to take a 37-31 lead.
"We just keep fighting," Ighodaro said. "We've done that all year. We've gotten down and kept fighting. Doesn't matter what the score is or how good or bad we're playing, we just keep fighting. We did that tonight and got the win."
That heady final play was emblematic of how much the 6-foot-9 Ighodaro has improved after playing sparingly last season as a freshman.
"His development has been crazy," MU guard Greg Elliott said. "Oso always had a great work ethic. He put the work in in the summer and now everybody gets to see it.
"We knew it was going to happen. You got to think, he had to play behind Justin Lewis last year (and) Theo John and Dawson Garcia. So it wasn't like he was just at practice chilling. It was never a cake walk for Oso ever. He was always battling against the best of the best on a daily basis."
Ighodaro had four points, four rebounds, two blocks and two steals. But the lengthy rim protector was out there in crunch time because his comfort level is soaring.
"The fascinating thing about our team is we have a lot of guys that are not yet what they are going to become," Smart said. "But you can see them, game by game, making strides with their confidence."
Ighodaro was one of many MU players to come through with big play on a night where points were hard to come by.
Elliott was another. He ignited the key spurt, scoring five points and handing out two assists during an 11-2 run that gave MU a 56-50 lead with 8:45 remaining.
"I know every game's not going to be pretty," Elliott said. "Especially on the road. So me being an older guy, I got to be able to change the game and do something different to help us win. Whatever that takes for us to win.
"I know it can come down to the last possession. Or any one possession can change the game, you never know what possession that's going to be. So I just wanted to go out there and make plays."
It's been a rocky start to the season for Elliott, who is in his fifth season with the program. He was suspended for the first four games of the season for what Smart called a "lapse in judgment."
After returning, Elliott had struggled to find his way. He didn't get off the bench in the second half of a blowout win over Jackson State.
"Once I got the suspension, it was what it was," Elliott said. "After that, it was just about my body language and the way I interacted with everyone around me.
"I'm an upbeat person, but at the time I was down because of what was going on. But it was just about my body language and being there for my teammates. Being a leader at the end of the day. I knew no matter what, even if I was suspended, I was still the older guy and all the younger guys looked up to me. So I knew no matter what I had to be our rock. I just had to be the same Greg every day. Even on the days when it was tough, I had to be the same Greg. And then today, I could finally show because I actually got to play more."
Despite the offensive struggles of starting guards Darryl Morsell and Tyler Kolek (combined 3 for 20 shooting), MU stayed in the game thanks to its defense and the stalwart play of Lewis.
Lewis bounced back from a six-turnover performance in a loss at Wisconsin on Saturday with 14 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
"He basically became our point guard for a stretch there," Smart said. "Throwing him the ball, kind of backing down in the post and trying to play against the double team.
"He made some phenomenal passes. When he had a lot turnovers in the Wisconsin game, that really bothered him. He takes a lot of personal pride in playing the right way. That assist-to-turnover ratio pretty much flipped tonight."
Freshman guard Kam Jones added 15 points, hitting a cold-blooded three-pointer that gave MU a 64-60 lead with 32 seconds left. The 6-4 Jones made his third straight start.
"He's been playing great," Elliott said. "We forced him into action with my suspension. But he stepped up to the plate with no hesitation. Ready to go. He does everything the team asked him to do."
Kansas State's Mike McGuirl answered Jones' shot with a three of his own with 19 seconds left. Five seconds later, Jones missed a free throw and Kansas State's Kaosi Ezeagu came down with the rebound.
That set the stage for Ighodaro's heroics. The final defensive stand continued MU's surprising start in the first season with Smart.
"I think our team took a step in terms of response," Smart said. "I think the difference between tonight and the Wisconsin game (and) the St. Bonaventure game was when the other team hit us with a haymaker early in the half, we responded tonight. And in those games, we were never quite ourselves after that initial thrust by the other team."
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Marquette 64, Kansas State 63: Oso Ighodaro's block seals road win