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Mid-game surge carries No. 18/17 K-State to 64-52 win over TCU

The starters again carry a heavy load for K-State

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Texas Christian
Kamau Stokes hits one of this three 3-pointers against TCU Monday night in Fort Worth.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It might have been senior night for the Horned Frogs, but K-State’s seniors won the evening in enemy territory.

No. 18/17 Kansas State used scoring runs just before and just after halftime to open a big lead on Texas Christian on its way to a 64-52 win in Fort Worth Monday night. With the win, Kansas State (22-7, 13-4 Big 12) remains tied with Texas Tech, who defeated Texas in in Lubbock, atop the Big 12 conference standings. TCU fell to 18-12 overall and 6-11 in conference play. K-State has now finished the “away” portion of its league schedule, running its record in conference road games to 7-2.

K-State trailed briefly in the opening minutes and nursed a small lead until TCU tied the score at 23 on a Desmond Bane 3-pointer with 4:46 to play in the first half. But the Wildcats closed the half on a 13-4 run, capped by a Kamau Stokes three-pointer with six seconds on the clock to give his team a nine-point cushion at the break, 36-27. The signature play of the half—and perhaps the game—came during the run, after Dean Wade jumped a passing lane, dished the ball to Barry Brown in transition, and got it back on a lob for the dunk to finish a picture-perfect 2-on-1 break.

The Wildcats continued their scoring binge after halftime, executing offensively and reeling off ten straight points to lead 46-27 before the first media timeout. They extended the lead as high as 21, at 51-30, before stagnating and allowing the Horned Frogs to chip their way back into the game.

TCU coach Jamie Dixon inserted three freshmen, and they delivered. RJ Nembhard got the run started with two free throws and a three-point basket. Kevin Samuel—a 6’11 freshman who tormented the ‘Cats all night—got a dunk, and Kendric Davis hit another three-pointer to complete a 10-0 run that pulled TCU back within 11.

Though it felt as if the game might be slipping away, TCU never got closer than seven, at 57-50. From there, Stokes got fouled on a three-point attempt and made all three free throws. Barry Brown Jr. made a jump-shot, and the lead had swelled to 12 again.

Oddly, the Frogs elected not to foul late to extend the game, and neither team scored over the last 2:17 of “action.”

As it did Saturday against Baylor, K-State relied on its starters, who accounted for all but three of the Wildcats’ points, to provide the offense. Brown led the way with 16, followed by Stokes (15), Xavier Sneed (11) and Makol Mawien (10). K-State shot 46.9 percent (23-49) from the floor, while holding TCU to 41.7 percent (20-48). The ‘Cats connected on an impressive 13-of-14 free throws, good for 92.9 percent.

Though Wade was the only starter not to score in double-figures, he undoubtedly won Coach Weber’s “play hard” chart, filling the stat sheet with nine points, six rebounds, five assists, three steals and a blocked shot.

Kevin Samuel led TCU with 17 and Nembhard added 12. Kouat Noi, who averages 15.1 per game and sat out the previous match in Manhattan with illness, was held scoreless.

What we Learned

  1. This team wins, but it can sure make it look hard sometimes. At the 15-minute mark, with K-State sitting on a 21-point lead, it appeared this one would be secured easily for the win column. Poor offensive execution, including shot clock violations, allowed TCU to get back within reach. It’s a troubling recurrence that cannot be allowed to become a trend. Saturday’s game featured big runs by both K-State and Baylor, making that contest more interesting than it needed to be, too. Fortunately, the experience of the Wildcats helped them secure both wins. Now, if they could just tap into that experience to preserve the cushions they earn in their spells of efficient basketball, we could all relax a lot sooner down the stretch of these games.
  2. Shout out to Kamau Stokes. Kam has always seemed like the “other” senior in some ways. Dean and Barry get most of the press, because both of them score more consistently, Dean impacts games in so many ways on the offensive end, and Brown gets added accolades for his defense. But Stokes has been the steadiest of the three lately, and it seems as if every shot he hits comes in a big moment. He has reached double figures in four straight games, and tonight he collected his 400th career assist, which is third on the all-time K-State career list. Each of the “Big 3” leads the team in one category this season: Barry in scoring (15.1), Dean in rebounds (6.2), and Kamau in assists (3.4). They compliment each other in so many ways. A Big 12 title—if they can complete the feat on Saturday—will be a fitting climax to their outstanding collective careers.
  3. And now, the real test. With tonight’s triumph, the Wildcats have won seven road contests in conference play, a feat accomplished by no Big 12 team, other than KU, since the Texas Longhorns did it in 1999. They will have to beat Oklahoma to match their 7-2 road record with an identical slate at home to assure themselves at least a share of the conference title. ESPN gave K-State a 47 percent chance of winning this game before opening tip, and the team defied that emotionless, numbers-based logic to earn another huge opportunity on Saturday. The team will be heavily favored against the Sooners. But, as we have seen repeatedly this year, odds don’t win games. Dean Wade, Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and their supporting cast do. Time to check another item off the seniors’ bucket list.