The good news is Kansas State avoided getting blown out in Allen Fieldhouse and there wasn’t an awful call to give KU a win. The bad news is that doesn’t really matter all that much at the end of the day, because the ‘Cats still lost, 73-72.
An atrocious final possession spoiled a great effort and any chance to blame the officials or anyone else for yet another painful loss to a team that still doesn’t look all that great by Kansas standards. It’s pointless to argue about whether Bruce Weber or Barry Brown deserves more blame for Brown walking the ball up the court and heaving a terrible deep 3 off a ball screen at the buzzer. All we know for sure is the ‘Cats must do better.
On the bright side, they got there thanks to an impressive comeback led by an unlikely hero, Cartier Diarra. The redshirt freshman came alive in the second half to help erase an 11-point deficit and finished with 18 points and four rebonds, so we’ll forgive the point guard for 3 turnovers not dishing out a single assist.
An all-too-familiar first four minutes saw Kansas playing with far more energy and lighting it up from three against a K-State defense that always seemed a step behind. Offensively, the ‘Cats struggled to find separation and forced up several tough shots.
The tide began to turn when Xavier Sneed hit the first of his two 3-pointers to cut the lead to 13-7 and Dean Wade quickly figured out he could shoot over his defender (typically Svi until Azubuike switched to him in the second half) without too much trouble. Those two scored 19 of Kansas State’s first 25, including Sneed’s three to tie the game at 21 and a Wade jumper to give the ‘Cats their first lead during a 14-3 that put them ahead 29-24.
Unfortunately, this game was in Allen Fieldhouse, so Svi hit a pair of threes in the final 40 seconds aided by a horrendous shot clock violation call against Kansas State to tie the game at halftime. It wouldn’t be the last time the referees made a questionable decision.
As expected, Udoka Azubuike presented some significant matchup problems with his size and physicality inside, and it would have been nice to see the ‘Cats foul him more considering he only shoots about 40% from the line. But he made 2-of-3 and missed just one of eight field goal attempts on his way to 18 points, which opened up some good looks for KU’s shooters on the perimeter.
Devonté Graham’s dribble-drive abilities also helped KU start the 2nd half strong, and he finished with a game-high 23 points. But the ‘Cats never wilted, matching KU shot-for-shot down the stretch despite some bad calls that are part of playing in Lawrence, and Wade hit some more big shots down the stretch to finish with 22 points.
I’d like to tell you to take heart because this will be a turning point in the season, but the fact is each game is different Kansas State needs to find a way to win these close games or it will be left out on Selection Sunday. The ability is there and the law of averages says the ‘Cats will figure it out at some point. Hopefully that will be soon, like maybe next week vs. Oklahoma.
What we learned
- Kansas State’s young players don’t get intimidated: It’s no surprise Dean Wade at this point in his career isn’t afraid to take big shots at Allen Fieldhouse, but it sure was nice to see Sneed and Diarra get hot in the Phog. Those two can be difference makers on both sides of the court and the ‘Cats did pretty well giving them the ball when shots were falling.
- Cartier Diarra can ball: Any lingering worries about Kansas State suffering a huge setback with the Kamau Stokes injury were pretty much erased this game. Sure, some extra depth at point guard would be nice with Mike McGuirl still looking uncomfortable in only three minutes, but it’s clear Diarra can handle being a Big 12 starter after two games with at least 17 points. Still, let’s not expect that every night and K-State shouldn’t always need that kind of production from him.
- Control the pace and the glass, control the game: When things were going right for Kansas State, it was because it didn’t force bad shots early in possessions, Kansas couldn’t get out in transition and the ‘Cats were winning the battle of the boards. KSU actually outrebounded KU 27-25, which is even more impressive considering the ‘Cats missed three more shots than the Jayhawks.