An all-too-familiar script unfolded at a rowdy, full Bramlage Coliseum Monday night. Before the crowd could make any sort of impact, Kansas scored almost all the points early, then casually swatted away any attempts at a comeback to win 70-56. It might be easier to shrug off as a one-game anomaly if we hadn’t seen it so many times in this series.
Kansas State actually took an early lead on an easy layup for Makol Mawien from Barry Brown, but that would be the last thing to go right for quite some time. Kansas responded with an 12-0 run thanks to three threes and would eventually lead 31-16.
It’s hard to fault the Wildcats’ energy, which helped force 12 (!) first-half turnovers. But perhaps it was a bit too much, as somewhat impatient shots simply weren’t falling and a few passes combined with far too easy dribble penetration opened up KU shooters, leading to them making five of their first six from long distance.
Thankfully, Dean Wade (13 points) and to a lesser extent Barry Brown (7 points) showed why they’ve been carrying the ‘Cats, even cutting the deficit to five at one point. But Bill Self switched to a zone to stop Wade and K-State went ice cold again, missing its last 12 field goal attempts to let KU take a 40-27 advantage into halftime.
Bruce talked about improving defensively in an interview before the second half started, and clearly his players got the message as well. Kansas also finally started missing some open looks, so K-State went on an 8-0 run to start the second half.
As my sense of dèja vu continued to grow, KU extended the lead again and Kansas State just couldn’t hit enough outside shots to take the Jayhawks out of their zone. Mike McGuirl scored a career-high 5 points and hit his first 3-pointer, but that was the coolest thing that happened the rest of the way.
This one really hurts right now, and it absolutely should. More than likely, this means the end of any hope K-State had to win the conference, and possibly any chance to knock KU off its perch. But in the bigger perch, all is clearly not lost, so K-State really needs to show some resiliency, starting Saturday at West Virginia.
Perhaps this is the perfect time for Kam Stokes to (seemingly) finally be getting back close to 100 percent. As well as the ‘Cats played without him up until tonight, common sense told us a deeper bench would be needed to survive through the Big 12 grind.
Player of the Game: Dean Wade
Dean Wade has been a huge asset for Kansas State basketball over the last three years, and one of the most exciting areas of growth for the big man is his consistency in showing up for the Sunflower Showdown. Monday’s 20-point performance on 8-of-18 shooting marked the fourth straight time he’s hit 20 against the ‘Hawks after not doing much in three games as a freshman, and it’s also the sixth straight game this season he hit the 20-point mark. Wade also did a lot of other things well, finishing with a team-high 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and even a nice block from the help side in the second half.
Three in the key
- Zone troubles: Kansas State absolutely lit up the Baylor zone to score 90 points on 8-of-17 3-point shooting a week ago, which only made it all the more disheartening to see all the confusion when the shots weren’t going down tonight. The Jayhawks don’t even have that much length, making the inability to score or shoot better than 32 percent from the field even worse.
- Big Letdown: Part of the problem offensively was Kansas State had virtually no inside presence to complement Wade, who clearly drew most of the attention from the Kansas defense. Makol Mawien started his night by nearly airballing a 3-pointer, proving the Jayhawks didn’t need to guard him away from the basket, and it only got worse as he finished 1-for-6 from the field, the first time he’s missed five shots in a game all season.
- X-Factor: First of all, let’s give Xavier Sneed some credit for playing hard through obvious pain when he began cramping up in the second half, especially on that remarkable putback one possession after he literally went to the floor to stretch. I’m not even that mad at him for trying unsuccessfully to find his outside shot, since that’s about all he had and it’s not like everyone else was lighting it up. Really, the biggest takeaway from the whole situation for me is Bruce’s tacit admission that Kansas State doesn’t have a better option on its bench than Xavier Sneed at 70 percent, if that.