Last year’s Kansas State Wildcats, with three accomplished seniors leading the way, failed to win a non-conference road game. The 2019-2020 version accomplished the task on its first try, overcoming the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, 60-56, in overtime Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
The final margin might have been the only thing pretty about this game. After Xavier Sneed scored the first four points of the o9contest, K-State would not score over the next 8:20 of game time. Fortunately, the defense kept the Rebels from running away with the game, as their largest lead was 14-4 before the teams went to the halftime break at 23-16. Three-point shooting was a glaring weakness for the Cats who shot 0-10 from beyond the arc in the half.
After the break, Sneed remedied that issue, catching the ball in rhythm twice and nailing NBA-range threes to tie the score at 28-all. The teams traded the lead three times in the half, and K-State had to defend for nearly a full minute at the end of regulation before forcing overtime at 48 apiece.
In the extra frame, with K-State down 52-51, hope seemed to take a negative turn when Cartier Diarra fouled out on an offensive foul—his third offensive offence of the day. But freshman post Montavious Murphy made an aggressive baseline drive, knocked down the bucket through contact and hit the and-1 to put the Cats up by two. After UNLV tied the game, Xavier Sneed rose up for a baseline jumper to put K-State up 56-54 with 0:28 to play. A video review after a Vegas miss on the other end overturned an out-of-bounds ruling and gave K-State the ball. Mike McGuirl iced the game with two free throws, and the Wildcats escaped.
The game was not a work of art, unless you work in crayon. K-State forced 25 turnovers but nearly lost because they committed 20 of their own, lost the rebounding battle 43-37, and shot just 25-59 (37.3%) from the floor. They won because they held the Rebels to 20-58 (34.5%) and made a stellar 12 of 13 free throws (92.3%). They also won because of tough play by leaders Diarra, Sneed and McGuirl and key contributions from three newcomers (more on that in a minute).
Sneed scored 19, while Diarra and McGuirl contributed 12 and 9, respectively. UNLV was led by Amauri Hardy, who hit a number of difficult shots on his way to 27 points, and Elijah Mitrou-Long, who scored 10.
Three in the Key
- Though none of them put up big numbers, newcomers Antonio Gordon, DaJuan Gordon and Montavious Murphy all made contributions that helped determine the outcome of this game. Murphy’s key and-1 we already mentioned, but he also led the team with six rebounds. DaJuan Gordon played 27 minutes and did a little of everything, scoring five points, grabbing three steals, and booking two rebounds and an assist. Probably his biggest play, though, was a corner three-pointer that tied the score with 2:55 to play in regulation. Miss that shot, and K-State is in dire straights. Earlier in the half, Antonio Gordon got free for a dunk that also tied the score at the time. The freshmen all show promise. We should look forward to their growth as the season progresses.
- The upper-classmen found a way. It was never pretty, but they kept the younger players grinding and stole a road win in a tough environment. 40 of K-State’s 60 points came from Sneed, Diarra and McGuirl. Makol Mawien struggled against the 6-11 Cheikh Mbacke Diong, only getting away three shots and finishing with two points. Diarra, after taking over the opening game against North Dakota State, struggled offensively in this one, shooting only 4-15 (0-7 from three) and fouling out partly because he tried to do too much by himself. Sneed and Mawien obviously want to accomplish some things in their senior seasons. How much they accomplish will depend, in large part, on how effective Diarra can be, and how quickly they can advance the process of eventually passing the torch to the newcomers.
- A shout-out goes to Mike McGuirl, who seems either to light up the court or to get overwhelmed. Today was excellent Mike. He was the only Wildcat with a double-digit efficiency rating, posting a 16.0. He took good shots, making three of four, and he added three rebounds, three assists and two steals. That kind of all-around supporting effort is what Bruce needs out of his athletic junior on a nightly basis.
The Wildcats return home to face Monmouth on Wednesday night at 7:00.