Kansas State started both halves hot, weathered a comeback, and emerged victorious over Iowa State Saturday, 78-66.
K-State (19-8, 8-6 Big 12) got off to a quick lead with a 4-0 run and twice had seven-point leads in the first half. But a 5:45 scoring drought allowed Iowa State (13-13, 4-10) to hang around, whittle away, and ultimately go to the locker room tied at the half, 33-33, after Lindell Wigginton drilled a 3-pointer before the buzzer.
Xavier Sneed had a big first half for K-State, with 13 points and 4 rebounds. Dean Wade, despite drawing heavy defensive focus, scored 10 on only seven shots, while passing out three assists. The rest of the squad was quiet. Barry Brown had four points on 2-6 shooting, and Kamau Stokes had two on 1-5 from the floor. Cartier Diarra had a nice drive and finish early, but sat all but six minutes of the half with two fouls.
The Wildcats, by far the Big 12’s worst rebounding squad, actually out-rebounded the Cyclones 20-16 in the first half. After a hot start aided by some big offensive rebounds, K-State cooled off and shot only 45.2% (14-31) for the half, 4-14 from outside the arc. Iowa State, at 12-27 (4-9 from three) shot 44.4%. K-State turned the ball over eight times, as many as it did in the entire game Wednesday night on the road against Oklahoma State.
Halftime messaging must have been much stronger in the home locker room. After a stop, K-State got a bucket from Wade. On the other end, Wade hedged for a nice anticipation steal, and threw it ahead to Barry Brown, who flushed home a dunk. That took the lid off for the Microwave, who converted a couple of drives, got to the line, and hit a three as part of a 27-8 K-State run that took the lead to 60-41.
A couple of sloppy turnovers and inattention to defense let Iowa State back into the game over the next four minutes, and after a Nick Weiler-Babb lay-up cut the lead to 64-54, Weber called a time-out to remind his squad to take care of the ball and play a little D. Diarra came back in and hit a 3 out of the time-out to stem the Cyclone momentum.
Donovan Jackson answered, though. And after a Sneed miss at the other end, the Cyclones had a chance to cut the lead to single digits. But Sneed jumped a bounce pass and dunked, and Wade rebounded the next Iowa State miss and threw an outlet to Brown for another stuff. Lots of pretty offense allowed K-State to stretch the lead back out, and after a beautiful drive and finish high off the glass by Brown, the ‘Cats led 78-60 with just under four minutes to play. The rest was just spit-shining.
It was a big day for three of the big four (or is it five?). Diarra and Kamau Stokes, with 8 and 5 points, respectively, were quiet. It did not matter, with Sneed and Wade carrying the load in the first half and Brown joining the show in crunch time. Sneed finished with 17 points and 7 boards. Brown scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half, and added three assists and two steals.
The stat-stuffer today, though, was Wade. The 6-10 junior scored 22 points on 9-13 shooting. He also pulled down eight rebounds and handed out nine assists, coming tantalizingly close to a triple-double. Dean has been very good throughout league play, should be all-league if there is any justice at all in the world, and is becoming one of those special players who define a program.
Iowa State was led by athletic freshman forward Cameron Lard, who scored 15. Donovan Jackson had 13, and Wigginton added 11.
Three in the Key
- The ‘Cats can rebound. K-State’s rebounding margin in league play averages -8 per game. Whether it was a matter of renewed attention or favorable match-up, K-State won the rebounding battle 35-28, and offensive rebounding played a key role in building the initial lead. A step in the right direction, whatever the cause.
- Team consistency is key. We saw in this game just how good K-State can be and why they have at times underachieved. For three stretches of the game, they played smooth offense, moved the ball, and made the open looks their efforts created. At other times, they fell in love with dribbling the ball in place and looked inept. Five guys on the team are capable of scoring. But only Brown and Diarra are adept at getting a shot for themselves. For this team to maximize its potential, everyone must be on the same page, and the offense must create good looks at the basket. Too often, they have been content to settle for desperation drives or long jumpers late in the shot clock. But when they run their stuff? Thing of beauty.
- Playing for seed? The expert prognosticators have mostly moved K-State off of “last four in” status for the NCAA tournament. Being safely in the field probably assumes the ‘Cats hold serve and win most of these games against teams below them in the Big 12 standings. Better teams than our guys have learned that wins in this conference, even against bottom-dwellers, are anything but automatic. This game was competitive, and only a couple of stretches of stellar play by K-State separated them at the end. They need to shift their focus quickly to Texas now, an athletic squad that they beat ten days ago in Austin. Texas upset Oklahoma in Norman today, and will not be afraid to bring their bevy of long, athletic players to the Octagon. Keep winning, and K-State could climb out of double-digit seed territory. Drop an unexpected game or two, and that putrid non-conference schedule will have us sweating on Selection Sunday.