The No. 1 seed Kansas State Wildcats (25-7, 14-4 Big 12) stormed out the gate Friday evening in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals, and did so again to start the second half after going ice cold for 10 minutes, but down the stretch they couldn’t hold off the fifth-seeded Iowa State Cyclones (22-11, 9-9 Big 12) in the Sprint Center in Kansas City, as Iowa State won 63-59.
K-State got out to a great start, opening the game with a forceful dunk by junior Makol Mawien, and built a 21-14 lead by the 10-minute mark as the Wildcats benefited from numerous Iowa State turnovers. From that point, nothing went right for the Wildcats until halftime, as Iowa State rolled off a 21-4 run, taking a 35-25 lead into halftime. The turning point of the first half came with about eight minutes remaining when senior Marial Shayok converted a 4-point play. Going into halftime, K-State looked like a team that was missing one of its key pieces, as senior Dean Wade could have helped both with offensive flow and post defense.
After halftime, the Wildcats put up a flurry, with back-to-back 3-pointers by senior Kamau Stokes and sophomore Cartier Diarra and a hustle play by Stokes on a 50/50 ball. Diarra tied the game with another 3-pointer, this time on a cross-over move, but Iowa State regained its footing. Stokes found junior Xavier Sneed for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to take a lead near the midpoint of the second half.
With about eight minutes left in the game and K-State leading 49-47, Sneed got the ball at the top of the key, offered a couple of ball fakes, then blew past his defender and posterized junior Michael Jacobson with a thunderous one-handed dunk.
Under four minutes to go, K-State led 55-50, but soon after Shayok took over the game with a pair of ridiculous 3-pointers. The first bounced around the rim and up before dropping through the net with just under two minutes left. His second came at the buzzer and well-defended with a hand in his face the entire way, but he sank it anyway with under a minute to go.
At the other end, Diarra rushed an out-of-rhythm 3-pointer and missed, forcing K-State to foul to extend the game. Down the stretch, Iowa State went 5-of-6 from the free throw line, while K-State couldn’t get as much as it needed at the other end, and the Cyclones won, 63-59 to advance to the tournament finals on Saturday against the winner of Kansas vs. West Virginia.
- Lack of depth: All five of K-State’s starters scored in double figures, but the Wildcats got no points and very few contributions from the bench. The highlight from the reserves all game was the walk-ons freaking out when Sneed brought the thunder. The lack of depth, exacerbated by Wade’s absence, left the normally well conditioned Wildcats look a bit tired, playing with just one night’s rest after beating TCU.
- Diarra is ready: Despite a couple of understandable mistakes, Diarra was very clearly ready to play in his second game back from injury. The athletic guard led K-State with 15 points and 7 rebounds.
- Wildcats lose a physical battle on the boards: The referees called the game very loose, letting the teams play physically, and it went both ways. But Iowa State and Jacobson in particular took advantage of the shy whistles, with the Cyclones holding a 43-29 rebounding edge, led by Jacobson’s 16 boards.
The Big 12 champion Wildcats wait to find out where they go and who they face in the NCAA Tournament.