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Wade, Diarra turn in clutch performances in victory

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Wildcats come from behind to defeat Georgia, 56-51.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Kansas State Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas State Wildcats won a tight game against the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday during the Big 12/SEC Challenge, 56-51. To get there, they needed guys to really step up at the right time, and Dean Wade and Cartier Diarra did exactly that.

After Xavier Sneed converted a four-point play early in the game, the Wildcats seemingly went an unimpressive 2-of-13 from behind the three-point line the rest of the game and had to really grind things out on offense to take a 26-23 lead into halftime at Bramlage Coliseum. After the break, Georgia went on a seven-point scoring run, and K-State spent a 14-minute stretch trying unsuccessfully to take the lead.

The Wildcats always prevented the Bulldogs from stretching out a big lead — a pair of six-point leads by Georgia in the second half were the largest leads by either team — but K-State just couldn’t close the gap until the 5:21 mark when Diarra made a driving layup and converted the three-point play to tie the game at 49. After two minutes of scoreless basketball, Barry Brown Jr. broke the tie with a free throw, finally giving K-State the lead for good, and the Wildcats won 56-51.

There were so many reasons K-State should have lost this game. They shot 21 percent from three. They got killed on the glass, allowing Georgia to grab 12 offensive rebounds. Brown never got on a roll. The bench contributed a whole 0 points on 0-1 shooting (and didn’t do much else, either).

What K-State did do well was defend and grit it out. The Wildcats had 7 steals and 4 blocks while limiting Georgia to 37 percent shooting (and 11 percent from three). Star forward Yante Maten was limited to 14 points and 5 rebounds, well below his 20/9 average. And down the stretch, Diarra converted a pair of difficult three-point plays while Wade made shots and finally brought the team’s rebounding to life.

Wade led all scorers with 20 points and added 8 rebounds and a steal, while Diarra had 12 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, a steal, and a block.

The starting five of Brown, Diarra, Makol Mawien, Sneed, and Wade played more than 90 percent of the available minutes in the game. Hopefully that doesn’t wear on them too much Monday when the Kansas Jayhawks come to Manhattan with a share of the Big 12 lead on the line.