At the start of the season, Kansas State looked like it should be clearly the best team in Fort Myers.
The Wildcats will leave as undoubtedly the worst of four teams in Florida after an aggravating 73-60 loss to Bradley, who you’ll recall lost to Northwestern by 27 on Monday. At least the Braves were picked to finish 2nd in the depleted MVC, I suppose.
An impotent offense and the worst defense of the season culminated with a rare Bruce Weber technical and a Cartier Diarra technical in the final minute, a clear sign of the frustration (anger?) from a dismal performance.
Diarra concluded his evening with 6 points and 4 turnovers, although he did at least add another 8 assists to his impressive season total. Xavier Sneed posted 15 points and 9 rebounds to lead K-State while Nate Kennell led Bradley with 22 points and his team shot 50% from the field, including 13-23 from three.
Kansas State finally played at the fast pace Weber promised during the offseason and it paid off in a lot of ways, forcing 15 (!) Bradley first-half turnovers and leading to a season-high 37 points. Unfortunately, the Braves hit 7-of-13 threes, some of them contested, to head into the locker room with a 38-37 lead.
That came about largely because of another slow start, as the Cats fell behind 14-6. Kansas State responded with an 8-2 run thanks to a pair of Mike McGuirl threes and Xavier Sneed showed up in the first half, scoring 11 more points than he did in Monday’s first 20 minutes.
Cartier Diarra’s offensive struggles continued with the notable exception of a really impressive drive to the basket finished with a two-handed dunk. The Wildcats spread out their scoring really well with eight different players making a field goal as the game went back-and-forth.
The K-State defense wasn’t terrible, but they could have done a better job of finding Nate Kennell, who hit three 3-pointers in the most annoying way possible. Although the Wildcats briefly took the
leave lead, Bradley answered and stayed in front heading into halftime thanks to a terrible fast break pass with nothing between Shaun Williams and the basket as the clock wound down.
That turned out to be a bad omen for the offense, which missed its first six shots and took more than six minutes to score in the second half. Meanwhile, Kennell hit two more 3-pointers to extend Bradley’s lead to seven before Shaun Williams delivered five straight much-needed points.
Sadly, his heat check 3 didn’t go down and no other Wildcats scored second-half points until Mike McGuirl got a fast break and-1 nearly ten minutes in off a great pass from…Shaun Williams. Also, McGuirl and Diarra both airballed threes, so that was ugly.
Meanwhile, K-State’s interior defense fell apart so much that Bruce briefly switched to a zone. Even when the Braves missed, they often outworked the Cats to pick up an offensive rebound and putback.
Plus, Bradley kept knocking down its open threes, including the fourth of the night by Darrell Brown to put the Braves ahead 58-49. K-State simply couldn’t put together a run to close the gap, and Kennell’s sixth 3-pointer felt like an unnecessary dagger to give Bradley a 66-56 lead with less than three minutes left.
The Wildcats will get five days to regroup before returning to Bramlage Coliseum Monday night against Florida A&M. I’d like to think Kansas State can comfortably blow out an 0-5 MEAC team, but, well...I still remember the game against Arkansas Pine-Bluff.
Three in the key
1. Kansas State didn’t just shoot poorly Wednesday night (4-21 from 3 and 1-13 in the second half). The Cats looked stagnant on offense and reverted to the kind of iso ball this team just isn’t built to play, with far too many possessions ending on a quick guarded shot or one of 14 turnovers. Makol Mawien and Levi Stockard became black holes inside, and the result was rarely good. Our lucky Florida correspondent Eric Rubottom will undoubtedly tell you more about this when he calms down enough to write his analysis, but apparently Bruce was very unhappy talking to his team during several timeouts.
2. The defense did an unusually poor job of identifying shooters, particularly Kennell. This is a guy who entered the game with more made 3-pointers than 2-pointers against subpar competition, and he clearly wasn’t going to beat anyone off the dribble. Yet Kansas State repeatedly let him get open (to his credit, he has a quick release) off simple screen actions, and he made them pay. Overall, Bradley got far too many open looks and even got to the basket rather easily on several occasions.
3. Believe it or not, there actually were a couple bright spots on offense worth discussing. First of all, as noted above, Shaun Williams looked like Kansas State’s most capable guard in the second half. He finished with 10 points on 4 of 8 shooting, 3 rebounds and an assist, although it’s worth noting he also committed 3 turnovers and didn’t exactly play lockdown defense in his 17 minutes. Perhaps more importantly, if ever there was a game film for Sneed to look at and realize the benefits of attacking the basket rather than settling for jumpers, this was it. He missed all 4 of his long-range attempts but still put up a fairly efficient (5/12) 15 points because he attacked the basket hard and made 5 of 5 free throws. Perhaps it’s not the type of game that will attract the attention of NBA scouts, but it’s what this team need X to do.