For the second straight time, Dean Wade can exit a matchup with rival Kansas knowing he was a difference maker.
The Kansas State sophomore forward, after posting 20 points in K-State’s Jan. 3 loss to KU in Lawrence, tallied 20 points again against KU Monday night, this time recording 6 rebounds and 4 assists.
But perhaps Wade and the Wildcats will need a third crack at it — because for the second straight time, No. 3 Kansas laid claim to the Sunflower Showdown, on this occasion ousting the Wildcats 74-71.
Kamau Stokes (16), D.J. Johnson (14) and Wesley Iwundu (13) also scored in double figures for K-State.
Wade kept his K-State (16-8, 5-6 Big 12) team above water down the stretch. His guarded, fallaway jumper sent the Wildcats to a 60-59 lead with just under 5 minutes to play, and his corner trey tied the game at 63-all at the 2:53 mark.
But KU (21-3, 9-2) took over from there.
Svi Mykhailiuk answered Wade’s 3 with his own immediately, and after a pair of free throws from Frank Mason — who totaled a game-best 21 points — and one from Josh Jackson, KU led 69-63 with under a minute to play.
Both sides then traded free throws until the final 30 seconds, when Stokes canned a 3 to slice the KU lead to 72-69 with 22 ticks remaining.
But Devonte’ Graham iced the game with a pair of free throws, followed by an inconsequential tip-in from Iwundu in the final second.
Wade once again took the reigns of a K-State offense in need of it — but again, his team fell a step short.
Much of that can be traced to Mason.
The senior guard’s 21 points led everyone Monday night, but what will stand out in the coming days will be his dive into the second row of media to save a ball, popping back up and onto the court in time to snare a cross-court pass.
Frank Mason emerges from the fourth row to make one of the best steals I've seen this season. pic.twitter.com/qydHYZP26s— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) February 7, 2017
Mason lost the ball and turned it over in transition, but it’s hard not to laud the senior who KU coach Bill Self may now hold in particularly impressive light.
Wow. Just caught up: @sportsiren said Bill Self told her Frank Mason has surpassed Sherron Collins as the best guard to ever play for him.— Scott Chasen (@SChasenCJ) February 7, 2017
That’s high praise from Self, who has coached Collins, Mario Chalmers, Andrew Wiggins, Brandon Rush and Ben McLemore, all eventual NBA players.
Mason was undeniably special Monday night — as has become customary — but he nearly opened the door for K-State in the waning moments, missing the second of a pair of free throws with 44 seconds to go.
Instead, Johnson converted on just one of two free throws on the other end, leading to Graham’s two foul shots that slammed the door on the Wildcats’ comeback bid.
But it didn’t always seem a comeback, not when K-State bolted out of the gate to an 8-2 lead, which only grew in the moments following. After a Mason 3 and an and-1 from Jackson, K-State registered seven unanswered points, securing both a 20-8 lead and a Bramlage Coliseum crowd descending into bedlam.
But it didn’t last. The Jayhawks responded via an 11-2 run, and K-State’s lead was down to 22-19 midway through the first half.
Wade ballooned his team’s lead back to five at 27-22 with a 3-ball, but the narrow game was on. KU scored six straight to reclaim the lead for the first time since 2-0, and it swelled to 33-29 when Graham connected on a corner 3-pointer.
The Kansas advantage grew even larger, at 37-31, before Stokes drilled a 3 and Iwundu hit 1 of 2 free throws.
Kansas took a 37-35 lead into the intermission.
On his way to 18 points, Jackson opened the second stanza with back-to-back triples, the second of which sparked a 7-0 run that handed the visitors a 47-38 lead.
The teams swapped buckets from there before a Wade layup triggered a small 4-0 K-State run to pull within 53-50.
Iwundu later tipped in a miss and Xavier Sneed scored his only two points — accounting for all of the Wildcats’ two bench points Monday — and Barry Brown later hit a layup. Then Wade hit the jumper to give K-State the lead.
The rest will likely linger over the Wildcats’ heads for the next few days.
But it can’t for long if K-State is to knock off No. 13 West Virginia Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats and Mountaineers will tip at 11 a.m. Saturday.
For now, though, K-State will try to fix some things under the hood.