That old refrain played again, as Kansas State started slowly, rallied to lead, but could not finish in the Wildcat Classic in Sprint Center, falling 66-63 to the St. Louis Billikens.
Levi Stockard, who had never before scored in double-figures for K-State, kept the Cats in the game with a career-high 17. Junior college transfer David Sloan threw eight assists in his twenty-eight minutes at the point, but he committed a crucial turnover, simply failing to catch a point-to-wing transfer and dropping it out of bounds, when K-State trailed by three with 40 seconds to play.
K-State would get a final chance when Demarius Jacobs missed a three-point attempt with twelve seconds left. But after a time-out, Xavier Sneed’s shot from above the key fell short, and a scramble to tip it back up was unsuccessful.
As has been the disturbing pattern most of the year, K-State could not generate any offense early in the game. The Cats did not score for the first six minutes, while the Billikens built a 9-0 lead. Cartier Diarra knocked the lid off the rim with a three, and K-State even crawled ahead briefly a few minutes later, before settling for a 31-31 halftime tie.
After the break, the Wildcats would manage only five free throw makes until Stockard made their first field goal of the half on a high-lane jumper with 13:13 to play. Diarra’s second three of the night would put K-State ahead, and a Montavious Murphy dunk would extend the lead to 43-40. But a contested three by St. Louis’s Jevonte Perkins tied the game, and though the teams traded the advantage a handful of times from there, K-State would never lead by more than a single point the rest of the way.
K-State would get two free throws from Stockard to tie the score at 63 with 2:15 to play. But the Cats would not score again.
Beyond the scoring funks that have become entirely too ubiquitous, the game was lost to sloppiness with the basketball—another trait that has reared its ugly head too often, of late. Though K-State forced 15 turnovers, they committed 18 of their own. Diarra was the prime offender, with six. Sloan and Antonio Gordon were guilty of three apiece.
If you’re looking for a bright side (and you have to look really hard), Makol Mawien recovered from his seven-flub disaster against Mississippi State to turn in a clean sheet in the turnover column tonight. But then, he only played twelve minutes. The Cats also made 20 of 23 free throw attempts in the game, a vast improvement over the norm.
Another semi-bright spot: K-State out-rebounded the Billikens—one of the nation’s leading rebounding teams—24-23. Unfortunately, the Cats gave up too many drives and dishes for easy buckets, allowing St. Louis to shoot 23-45 (51%) from the floor.
Sneed joined Stockard in double-figures with 11, on only seven shots. Mike McGuirl led a balanced team effort in rebounding, with six.
St. Louis’s scoring attack was led by Javonte Perkins, who had 12, Jordan Goodwin, who scored 11, and Terrence Hargrove Jr., who had 10.
Three in the Key
- K-State cannot win if the experienced players no-show. As noted, Sneed scored 11 points. But he only found seven shots. Diarra scored six on 2-3 marksmanship, but the biggest mark he made on this game was with his carelessness for the ball. Not only did he turn it over six times in only 15 minutes, but after the last one, he showed uncharacteristic indifference about chasing down the play and trying to atone for his error. Diarra is a talented player who has done good things for K-State and will do so again. But tonight, he did not help the team compete to win this game. Mawien had only two points (on 1-4 shooting), three rebounds, and three fouls. Nineteen points from the three most experienced Wildcats will only result in more of these dark and disappointed recaps.
- If not for Levi Stockard, this game would have been ugly throughout. With his parents in the stands, the big guy knocked down all of his shots from the floor, including mid-range jump shots and an emphatic two-handed slam. He also hit 7 of 9 free throw attempts. The unexpected performance was almost—almost!—enough to carry the day. “Almost” is no comfort, unfortunately. Despite his excellent play, you still might wonder why he was in for the last shot with the Cats down three, rather than either Antonio Gordon or Montavious Murphy, both of whom are actually a threat to make a three-pointer. But that’s not Levi’s fault.
- This loss leaves K-State’s postseason hopes at least lying in the drain, if not circling it madly. They have no signature wins, and perhaps none that even fit the definition of “good” wins. Now, they have only one non-conference game remaining. That one is against Tulsa, a team that frustrated even last year’s squad, led by Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes. At 6-5 now, the Cats will have to win that game to finish the non-con above .500. Lose it, and they will be break-even on the season. Since at least a .500 record is require to play in the post-season, a loss next Saturday would present Bruce’s squad with the daunting task of attempting to secure a winning record against the Big 12. Though the league appears to have some vulnerabilities, only the purplest of purple glasses could see what we have seen so far and expect this team to win more than half its conference games.
Unless something unexpected happens—and immediately—this season will be about developing the freshmen and hoping their improvement and an infusion of talent with the incoming class next season will make this a temporary doldrum, at worst.