Kansas State played well enough defensively to beat a scrappy but not great Pittsburgh team Monday in Fort Myers.
The Wildcats even hit 50% of their 3-pointers, accounting for more than half their total points. Sadly, some atrocious free throw shooting, shaky offense inside the arc, and yes, some questionable officiating resulted in a 63-59 loss to end the dream of an unbeaten season.
It’s tough to win when you shoot 13-of-38 from two and 3-of-13 from the free throw, which is what K-State somehow managed to do. Yes, that last miss was intentional by Cartier Diarra, but the Cats also missed the front end of a 1-and-1 5 (five!) times. That’s unacceptable.
Meanwhile, Pitt hit 18-of-21, including their last 10 down the stretch. We can certainly argue about whether those were warranted, just as we could dispute an offensive foul called against Diarra with K-State down 1 and 5 seconds left, but at the end of the day Pittsburg made its shots and Kansas State didn’t.
Xavier Sneed even had a good look at a go-ahead jumper late, but he missed to cap off a rough night with just eight points on 3-of-13 shooting. Diarra wasn’t much better with 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting, to go along with 6 assists and 3 turnovers.
K-State was also outrebounded 40-30 and shot just 40% from the field. Basically, it was a game where it felt like the Cats were lucky to be in its but also should have won, if that makes sense.
It turns out all Kansas State needed to do to open a game strong was to start Antonio Gordon. He took the place of still-injured Montavious Murphy and scored seven of K-State’s first 9 points, including a 3-pointer on the first possession.
During that time Pittsburgh failed to score while an energetic Wildcat defense forced three turnovers and Cartier Diarra attacked the basket with impressive speed and efficiency. The point guard even added a putback on DaJuan Gordon’s missed fast break layup.
Of course, Kansas State’s offense eventually slowed down, in part because Pittsburgh switched to a zone defense. The Panthers also started to score a little despite foul trouble to talented sophomore Xavier Johnson, cutting the lead to 14-10.
A pair of threes and a beautiful baseline drive by DaJuan Gordon put Kansas State’s offense back on track. He scored all 12 of his points in the first half to make up for nothing from Xavier Sneed before halftime.
An improbably Mike McGuirl three after the refs missed an obvious instance of basketball interference gave Kansas State 30 points at halftime for the first time this season. But the Cats only led 30-28 because of an 11-3 Pittsburgh run to end the half.
The Panthers continued to outwork K-State’s defense inside to start the second half, finally taking the lead on Justin Champagnie’s two-handed putback slam. An 8–1 run gave Pittsburgh a 38-35 advantage before McGuirl buried another three.
Cartier Diarra drained a couple of long distance bombs from the left win to keep things close, while Pittsburgh kept missing threes. The Panthers shot just 1 of 16 from beoynod the arc, but 10 offensive rebounds helped them mitigate those shooting struggles.
Xavier Sneed’s first field goal from just inside the arc put K-State briefly ahead 48-47, then Shaun Williams drained a three to make it 51-49. Then the offense went cold at exactly the right time and Pittsburgh hit some free throws before Sneed hit a clutch three, then Cartier Diarra turned a steal into a layup to cut the deficit to 57-56 with 3:23 left.
Sadly, Kansas State would make just one more field goal, and Pittsburgh did enough to close things out in an ugly basketball game. The Wildcats return to action tomorrow against either Bradley or Nortwhestern in a consolation game.
Three in the key
1. Cartier Diarra obviously spent a lot of time during the offseason working on his ability to finish around the rim with his right hand, and it’s certainly paid off a lot this season. But now he’s gotten almost too confident with it, resulting in a few wild, out-of-control shots when he drives in then gets into trouble after jumping in the air. Although those don’t officially count as turnovers, they have the same result.
2. Xavier Sneed entered Monday averaging 16 points per game and is expected to be one of this team’s offensive leaders. A miserable night shooting left the offense crippled with no one really capable of picking up the slack for 40 minutes. He did contribute a little towards the end of the game and showed some desire to be that guy, which is nice, but if he can’t come through then it’s going to hurt Kansas State.
3. Makol Mawien was almost worse than invisible on Monday. He finished with 4 points, 1 rebound and 5 fouls. Sure, not all of those fouls were legit, but he has to find a way to stay on the floor, particularly since it seems Montavious Murphy will miss a few more games. Kansas State’s post depth is paper thin and Levi Stockard just hasn’t shown any ability to adequately step into that role.