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Final: Mississippi State 67, Kansas State 61

Another opportunity slips away.

Cartier Diarra came through in the clutch.
Cartier Diarra led the Cats in scoring against Mississippi State, but scoring droughts were K-State’s undoing in New Jersey.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Prolonged droughts from the floor to end both halves doomed Kansas State in Saturday’s match-up against Mississippi State in the Never Forget Classic, as the Wildcats fell to the Bulldogs, 66-61.

In the process, K-State squandered what had been a 12-point first half lead. The Cats may also have squandered their last, best opportunity to add a non-conference win of consequence to their resume. Tulsa remains on the schedule, but previous contests against the Golden Hurricane have been lessons in torture and frustration, even with lineups more capable of finding ways to score.

At the 9:56 mark of the second half Saturday, David Sloan drove the length of the floor, hesitated, then outran his man to the bucket for a lay-up. It would be the last time a Wildcat would make a shot from the floor. That’s right. Nearly ten minutes to finish the game without a single hoop—when one would have changed the game, and a couple might have turned the outcome. The Cats made enough free throws to keep it close. But disjointed offense, turnovers, repeated failures to secure entry passes and an inexplicable inability to finish from point-blank range ultimately doomed K-State.

There were other problems, to be sure. A couple of ill-advised double-teams on the defensive end left the lane wide open for Bulldog lay-ins. Mississippi State played to its own scouting report and crashed the glass hard, especially in the second half, collecting 15 second-chance points. An overplay led to a drive and posterizing dunk by Iverson Molinar that pulled the Bulldogs within two at the 6:08 mark and seemed to ignite his squad. But offensive inconsistency has been the recurring nightmare for Bruce’s team this year, and the Wildcats could not wake up in time to secure what was an imminently winnable game in New Jersey.

The outcome wastes a couple of bright performances. Cartier Diarra scored 20 points on 5-10 shooting, 8-12 from the free throw line. Mike McGuirl showed some offensive aggressiveness and scored 17 on only seven shots (4-7, 3-5 from three). Their contributions were almost enough to offset an uncharacteristically cold day for Xavier Sneed, who made only 2 of 11 shots and finished with 8 points.

Some help from inside would have made a difference, too. But post play was a notable problem in the game, on both ends of the floor. Makol Mawien was guilty of seven turnovers and made only 1 of 6 shots. Levi Stockard III was 0-for-2 from the floor. Perhaps most telling about the play of the inside guys: Cartier Diarra, who entered averaging seven assists per game, finished without a single one today. Hard to finish when you’re busy fumbling the ball and fading away from contact.

One semi-bright spot: James Love saw his first action of the season, logging two minutes of playing time while Mawien gathered himself for the stretch run that never quite materialized. Montavious Murphy did not play, still trying to rehabilitate a knee injury.

Four Bulldogs scored in double figures, led by Tyson Carter, who had 14, though K-State held him to 3-13 shooting.

The Cats will break for finals before playing Saint Louis on December 21, followed by Tulsa on the 29th. Then, it’s on to league play.

The defense has kept K-State in games. Let’s hope some practice time—and maybe the return of Murphy—can be the antidote for the prolonged offensive lapses.