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Wildcats overcome sluggish first half to beat NDSU

Cartier Diarra keys second-half run to secure the win.

Cartier Diarra and Xavier Sneed emarked on their first season as unquestioned team leaders Tuesday night.
Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas State overcame cold outside shooting and sluggish perimeter defense in the first half to overcome the North Dakota State Bison, 67-54, in the regular season opener for both teams in Manhattan Tuesday night.

The first half was especially ugly. The Wildcats made only 1 of 12 attempts from three-point range, and that lone bucket came from the unlikely shooting touch of senior power forward Makol Mawein. Meanwhile, NDSU post player Rocky Kreuser and point guard Vinnie Shahid combined to make 5 of 11 attempts from long range. K-State was fortunate that the visitors connected on only 2 shots inside the arc and 7-25 overall, while K-State shot 10-30. The performance added up to an unsightly 22-21 halftime score.

Immediately after the break, Cartier Diarra made a conventional three-point play to put the Cats in front, 24-22, and though a fourth three-point basket by Kreuser would momentarily give the Bison another lead, Xavier Sneed would drive for a lay-up on the next possession that put K-State in front to stay. Sneed, Mike McGuirl, and DaJuan Gordon would each knock down a three-point basket in the second frame, while Diarra hit two in the second half. Levi Stockard III and Mawein also made timely jump shots to help keep North Dakota State at arm’s length.

After accumulating only four assists in the first half, the Wildcats did a better job of creating space and sharing the ball after the break, finishing the game with 14 assists on 26 buckets. Just as importantly, they only turned the ball over six times in the game. Though piercing the lid from outside was important, the outcome was sealed by K-State’s enormous 34-14 advantage in scoring in the paint.

The Bison led by as many as five points in the first half, and K-State did not establish a double-digit lead until a Sneed 3-pointer made it 52-41 with 8:49 to play. NDSU would not get closer than seven the rest of the way.

Diarra led all scorers with 23 points. Mawein had a double-double, with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Sneed finished with 9, and Stockard had 8. Kreutzer finished with 14, and Tyson Ward, who was saddled with early foul trouble, scored 12 for the Bison.

Three in the key

  1. No telling how much of the slow start offensively should be attributed to nerves and how much to growing pains. Sneed got off to a particularly poor beginning, scoring only two before halftime on 1-6 shooting. This team probably cannot endure too many nights where the senior leader only makes one hoop and Mawien books the squad’s only three-pointer in a half. Sneed found other ways to contribute, snaring 6 rebounds and tossing two assists. He and McGuirl both landed in foul trouble, as well, which forced DaJuan Gordon and David Sloan to play key minutes when the game remained in doubt. The upper-classmen will need to clean up the sloppy play early this season to help ease the newcomers’ transition to the college game.
  2. Apart from some breakdowns around the three-point arc, the defense looks keyed in. Though it seemed as if the Bison hit every open shot early, they cooled off in the second half and finished only 15-52 overall (28.8%) and 8-30 from deep (26.7%). Kreuser, the post player, got the most open looks as K-State guards struggled to get around his screens, forcing Mawein to hedge much farther than Coach Weber would prefer. That should be an easy clean-up in practice. The rebounding battle was even at 39 apiece, which must be disappointing, given the Cats’ size and athleticism advantage. Coach Weber said the offense will come in time, and he’s likely right. But the defense is already good enough to keep the team in the game until shots start to fall. That’s a major positive, especially considering the number of minutes newcomers are getting.
  3. Cartier Diarra was the difference in this game. After the intermission, it was clear that the athletic junior meant to seize control of the game, and he did just that. He got around his man to drive the paint several times, he drew fouls, and he knocked down 2 of 4 threes and all five of his free throws to pace the team. Sneed and Gordon both followed his lead by driving the ball, and K-State’s athleticism was ultimately too much for the Bison. Cartier did not have any windmill dunks, and he only shot 8-21 from the floor, but he also led the team with six assists, matched that effort with six rebounds, and was clearly the best player on the floor.

Next up

Bruce’s guys play next on Saturday against the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in a rare early-November road game. The game tips at 3:00 central, which is unfortunate, since the football game against Texas kicks off at 2:30. You’ll have to multi-task to enjoy both.