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Wildcats blow lead, fall at Oklahoma, 66-61

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Xavier Sneed almost carried K-State, but it’s hard to score from the bench.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Oklahoma
Xavier Sneed was hitting from deep early but could not find his touch in time to save the day after foul trouble forced him to sit for a long stretch of the second half.
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

After Kansas State built as much as an 11-point lead on Oklahoma, the Sooners finished on a 12-0 run to defeat the Wildcats, 66-61, in Norman.

K-State did not score a point over the last 3:45 of the game, and lost after leading for nearly 37 minutes. Scoring droughts, as we know by now, are the Cats’ Achilles heel, and they were again today. After reaching its biggest lead of the game at 44-33 with 14:23 to play, K-State committed three turnovers and missed two shots on its next five possessions to allow the Sooners to hang around.

Defense limited the damage in that span, as OU only managed to get back to within 44-39. Xavier Sneed rebuilt the double-digit lead to 51-41 with a four-point play and another three-point basket.

But from the moment OU’s Austin Reaves knocked down two free throws with 10:26 to play, he took over the game. Reaves had only three points before those free throws. He would finish with 21, including four makes on eight three-point attempts.

K-State attempted an unsustainable 37 three-point shots, making 12 (32.4%). But they missed their last four attempts from deep, sealing the win for the Sooners.

The other glaring stat was a gaping disparity at the free throw line. OU made 23 of 29 attempts. K-State, meanwhile, only got nine opportunities at the stripe, converting five.

Few other statistical anomalies stand out in what was an evenly-matched contest. The Cats were out-rebounded 42-37 and turned the ball over only 11 times in the game, compared to 10 for OU. Oklahoma made only 23 percent from beyond the arc (5-23) and shot 37 percent overall for the game (19-51). The Wildcats, meanwhile. created 12 more scoring opportunities from the field, but only made 22 of 63 shots (34.9%).

Though the Cats led by three at halftime, 33-30, the lead could have been more. K-State made 7 of 16 first-half three-point attempts (43.8%), with six different Wildcats knocking down shots from outside, and led by as much as six. But Kristian Doolittle scored nine points in the last four minutes of the half to keep K-State within reach.

Sneed led all scorers with 22, while Cartier Diarra contributed 10 points and seven assists. Makol Mawien scored nine, but don’t let that fool you into believing he played well (more on that, below). DaJuan Gordon hustled on both ends and finished with eight points. Antonio Gordon led the Cats in rebounding, with 8, but he made only one of nine shot attempts on the day.

Reaves had 21 for OU, with Doolittle scoring 19 and Brady Manek and his funky mustache managing nine.

Losing close games is frustrating. Losing them after leading nearly the entire way is infuriating.

Three in the Key

  1. First, the good. And there is some good. K-State played quite well for the first 25 minutes of this game. At the half six different players had made three-point shots, and Xavier Sneed was leading like you would want your senior to lead. K-State was the tougher team, mostly, and looked as organized offensively as they have all year. Unfortunately, Sneed found himself in foul trouble after the break (more on that below, too) and had to sit for an extended spell. When he came back in, the shooting touch had abandoned him. That led to scoring funks, and with Reaves going supernova for OU the rest of the way, the Wildcats just couldn’t hang on.
  2. Reaves had ample help going supernova. Announcers can talk all they want about “doing a great job of creating contact,” but what he was really doing was pushing off and/or flailing to buy calls. Sneed was the victim of a terrible call when he swatted a fast break attempt out of the air, benefited from a makeup call moments later that allowed him to make a four-point play, and then had to sit after being called for his fourth on one of Reaves’s many fool-the-ref moments. Sneed’s second foul was a complete nothing-burger, as well. It’s cliche to complain about the refs, sure. But if the crew has to watch this one in a review session, several errors will be apparent. And those errors affected the outcome, without a doubt.
  3. It is usually not in our nature to call out individual Wildcats, but Makol Mawien simply has to give the team more. He fouled out today, in only 19 minutes of floor time. As previously noted, he did score nine points on a (for this game) remarkably efficient 4-8 shooting day. But he also had only one lousy rebound, and poor defensive positioning and/or effort was a big reason he fouled so often, which was in turn a big reason Kristian Doolittle score nine of his 19 points at the free throw line. Mawien has grown into a big, chiseled specimen of a player in his time at K-State, but he is getting very little benefit out of his hard work in the weight room. The team needs him to play more assertively and stop with the finesse moves all the time. It needs him to cut and post up aggressively, then finish big. It needs him to square up and defend with attitude. Though Montavious Murphy and Antonio Gordon combined for only seven points on 2-for-13 shooting, collectively, they also grabbed 11 rebounds, held their own defensively, and played turnover free basketball. Mawien needs to find the fire soon, or the freshmen will continue to steal his minutes.

Next Up: K-State hosts Texas Christian at 8:00 on Tuesday, January 7.