Good teams have players who can carry them through bad nights against inferior teams.
That obviously hasn’t always been true for Kansas State this season, but the veterans stepped up in a big way Monday night at West Virginia. Specifically, Barry Brown looked unstoppable and Xavier Sneed provided a valuable assist to lead the Wildcats to a 65-51 win.
To be clear, the Mountaineers are a very bad basketball team and probably much worse than the one KU inexplicably lost to back in January. But it still felt good to see Bob Huggins so angry and end a 5-game losing streak in Morgantown, dating back to the last season Kansas State won a Big 12 title.
Barry Brown played magnificently, scoring 21 points and hitting multiple shots that left defenders with expressions that said, “What am I supposed to do?” Xavier Sneed rebounded from a slow start to score a season-high 19 with five 3-pointers.
The defense did its part to hold West Virginia to 34% shooting, its second-worst mark in Big 12 play. Forward Lamont West scored 16 points and Derek Culver added 11 against K-State’s weak frontcourt, but the coaching staff made some good adjustments to limit their impact in the second half.
Kansas State got off to an inauspicious start, committing two careless turnovers and missing its first four 3-pointers. Fortunately, West Virginia was kind enough to give Makol Mawien the ball for an easy dunk, and the Wildcats eventually started hitting shots by giving the ball to Dean Wade.
Sadly, he would not have another perfect night as the fouls and turnovers kept piling up for Kansas State. At one point, Xavier Sneed went up for a fast break dunk with a 6-footer running next to him and inexplicably lost control of the ball to send it flying over the rim. It was that kind of start for the ‘Cats and the missed dunk would be a harbinger of what was to come.
Still, a solid defensive effort and Barry Brown’s mid-range shooting kept K-State close despite some shaky offense against the Mountaineers’ changing defenses. The Wildcats played some zone again themselves with Makol Mawien and Levi Stockard both sidelined by foul trouble, and it kind of worked because West Virginia has no shooters.
As a result, K-State found itself somehow still ahead 30-28 at halftime after shooting 39% from the field (29%) from 3, committing 8 turnovers and 12 fouls, and going through a scoring drought of nearly 4 minutes. Things got so desperate that James Love and Nigel Shadd saw playing time while Levi Stockard picked up 3 fouls, something Bruce Weber never allows to happen before halftime.
Barry Brown stayed ridiculously hot and utterly indifferent to defenders in his face to start the second half, helping K-State stretch the lead out to 7. Xavier Sneed even hit a three, which almost made up for Mak’s missed dunk.
Yet before I could even finish writing that last paragraph, West Virginia managed to tie the game with Dean and Barry on the bench, prompting a Bruce Weber timeout. Bob Huggins evidently told his players to leave Wildcats open, so Mak got a big dunk and X hit a three before Huggy Bear called a timeout to suggest better defense.
Kansas State kept making shots anyway, with the glaring exception of two more wide open missed dunks by Mak. But at least he got an intimate hug and chat from Bruce out of it.
Nonetheless, a 14-0 run put K-State in control and made this win look deceptively comfortable. Still much less stressful than the win over West Virginia in Manhattan, so we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.
What we learned:
- Dean seems to be OK. It certainly wasn’t his best game, but he put to rest our worst fears simply by coming out in the starting lineup. There weren’t any noticeable foot issues and he finished with a solid stat line of 10 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists. Dean even made some confident moves toward the basket, which is always nice to see. It’s very clear by now that K-State is a much better team with him on the floor, so we can all breathe a sigh of relief — at least for now.
- The frontcourt depth is awful: OK, so we probably knew this already, but tonight confirmed it beyond any reasonable doubt. Foul trouble forced Bruce to go deep into his bag of post players. The results were not pretty. Levi Stockard III, James Love III, Nigel Shadd and Austin Trice all played meaningful minutes, combining for 0 points, 1 rebound, 9 fouls and 2 turnovers. If those foul numbers don’t make it obvious, they looked awful on defense. Mak needs to understand it’s crucial for him to do whatever he can to stay out of foul trouble.
- Road wins are keeping K-State on top in the Big 12. Kansas State improved to 6-1 on the road in conference play. No other team has more than four wins or fewer than 3 losses, with the exception of Iowa State, which still has games at TCU, West Virginia and Texas. Of course, the ‘Cats still have their toughest road game remaining, next Monday at Kansas. Still, so long as K-State takes care of business at home against Oklahoma State on Saturday, a loss in Lawrence would only drop Bruce Weber’s team back into a tie for first with three games remaining.