Everything went according to plan in Manhattan on Senior Day and Kansas State earned its second Big 12 regular season championship of the Bruce Weber era.
Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown and Dean Wade all reminded us one last time in Bramlage why they’re one of the best senior trios in program history. Oklahoma had no answer as the Wildcats pulled away in the second half for a dominant 68-53 win to finish 14-4 in league play.
Sure, it was hardly K-State’s best shooting night and maybe, just maybe, the celebration would have been a little better if Iowa State had been able to defend its home floor against Texas Tech earlier in the day. But none of that really mattered when Dean Wade and Barry Brown kissed the floor with barely a minute remaining, so let’s go ahead and save any worries or ‘co-champion’ labels for later.
Kam continued to do a little bit of everything and hit four 3-pointers to post game-highs of 19 points and 6 assists. Barry didn’t quite break out of an offensive funk, but he did add 5 steals and 4 rebounds to his 10 points. Both senior guards played every meaningful second of the game.
Dean added 11 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists on a surprisingly poor shooting night, but that’s hardly cause for concern. He also played some great defense on Brady Manek, helping hold Oklahoma’s second-leading scorer to four points before he left the game late after a flagrant 2 foul.
Oklahoma hung around early while Kansas State’s open looks from the outside weren’t falling. Finally, back-to-back threes by Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade broke a 14-14 tie to create a bit of breathing room and the Wildcats led the rest of the way.
The defense kept doing its thing, although Austin Trice continued to have some difficulties matching the high level of his teammates. Fortunately this time he made up for it on the offensive end, notching a very #onbrand putback layup followed by a 3-point play minues the free throw because again, he’s got to stay #onbrand.
Barry Brown capped off one of the more ridiculous possessions of this season by knocking down – what else? – a mid-range jumper with the shot clock running down after two near-turnovers. But the highlight of the first half was Dean’s two-handed reverse jam off of a perfect left-handed lazer pass from Kam.
Barry hit his first three in five games to push the lead out to 10 and it stayed that way going into halftime. The three seniors showed up from the tip to put up 24 of K-State’s first 32 points, with all of them scoring at least 7 and they weren’t done.
Two more Stokes threes stretched the advantage to 19 and forced an Oklahoma timeout before the under-16 media break. The Sooners would never get any closer than 14 the rest of the way and at one point KSU went up by 27 on a Barry Brown jumper preceded by a thunderous Xavier Sneed dunk.
What we learned
Trice can provide some valuable minutes: No, he’s not going to knock down jump shots, take his defender off the dribble, or hit 60 percent of his free throws. He could also use a little more discipline on defense, but the junior college transfer knows what to do when the other team shoots. Trice grabbed seven rebounds to share a game-high in 20 minutes and he even showed a knack for being in the right place around the basket. That got him six points without a miss. We’ll take it.
This defense might be getting better: I’m aware that’s a very bold statement, but the ‘Cats have looked absolutely locked in since a 78-64 loss to Iowa State at Bramlage three weeks ago. No team has reached 70 and most haven’t even gotten close against Kansas State’s suffocating defense. The final numbers for Oklahoma on Saturday were as follows: 41.5% FG, 29.4% 3FG, 12 turnovers and 8 offensive rebounds, most of which came when the game was already decided. If you like advanced stats, they scored .88 points per possession and shot an effective FG% of 46.2% with a 19.8% turnover percentage. The Sooners shot better than 48% from the field and 39% from 3 in 4 of their previous 5 games.
Kansas State’s ready for the postseason: Even without Cartier Diarra, this is a team no one will want to face in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments. There are no easy baskets and multiple guys – starting with Kamau Stokes – have the ability to heat up quickly for a very unselfish offense. Of course we could find weaknesses if we look hard enough, but that’s true for just about anyone and this team really seems to be gelling right now. The smiles on the faces of all the Wildcats Saturday made that very obvious.