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Failed showtime dunk thwarts momentum; Cats fall, 69-62

Another case of “what might have been.”

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Texas Tech
Montavious Murphy with the high-percentage dunk attempt.
Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

On rare occasions, everyone can unanimously point to one moment in a game and agree that it was the pivotal play that most affected the outcome. Against Texas Tech Wednesday night in Lubbock, Kansas State’s Cartier Diarra turned what could have been a huge bounce for the Wildcats into a momentum boost for the Red Raiders, who took advantage of the miscue and went on to win, 69-62.

Though K-State (9-17, 2-11 Big 12) started slowly and trailed by 11 with only four minutes to play in the first half, the Wildcats used a zone defense and dribble-penetration to claw back to within three, 30-27, on an Antonio Gordon bank shot just before halftime. After the break, with Texas Tech (17-9, 8-5) leading 44-42, Diarra got a steal and had open floor to the rim. He tried a dunk that was multiple degrees too dazzling, clanged it off the back iron, and watched as Tech’s Davide Moretti drained an open three-pointer to stretch K-State’s deficit to five points.

The Wildcats would never get the score tied, much less surge into a lead, though they hung tough and did not quit, even when the margin built as high as 13.

The missed showtime came after a sideline tirade that Diarra directed at Coach Weber, in which he shouted, scowled and finally clapped derisively in his coach’s direction. He played again after that outburst. After the dunk attempt, the athletic and enigmatic redshirt junior was finished for the night.

It is unfair to say that K-State lost because of that one play. Everyone had a hand in the outcome. But that play certainly thwarted confidence and momentum that had built through the Wildcats’ comeback. To use classic understatement, it was unhelpful.

Each of the three freshmen made positive contributions to the Wildcats’ effort, headlined by Antonio Gordon, who hit back-to-back three-pointers from the left corner late to sustain some intrigue in the game and force Tech to play until the final thirty seconds. Gordon finished with a career-high 14 points on 6-7 shooting. He also led the team with eight rebounds. Montavious Murphy was more aggressive offensively than he has been in awhile, getting to the rim and to the free throw line. He scored nine, on 3-4 shooting from both the floor and the charity stripe. DaJuan Gordon scored four, but he was active, as usual, and got his points on a smooth dribble-drive and a weak side rebound and put-back.

Turnovers were a problem for both teams, as Tech gave the ball away 18 times, and K-State lost it to carelessness on 16 possessions.

Xavier Sneed led K-State with 15 points and four steals in 37 minutes of playing time. The Cats only took 48 shots, making 23 of them (47.9%). They were a chilly 4-17 (23.5%) from outside.

The starters scored all but two of the Red Raiders’ points. Moretti led the way with 18, which included 4-10 marksmanship from beyond the arc. Jahmi’us Ramsey scored 17, and Kyler Edwards added 14 to the Tech cause. Tech shot 23-46 (50%) for the game.

K-State shot 19 free throws, but made only 12. Tech, meanwhile, was 15-17 from the line. Little things like free throw shooting continue to cost the Cats chances to win.

Three in the Key

  1. We will dispense with the usual rule (and it’s a soft rule, anyway) about not singling out players because, in this case, we’re not complaining about play, but foolishness. We all loved the windmill dunk against KU last season, and it even features prominently in pregame hype videos. But the game did not hang in the balance when Diarra broke out that gem. It was an exclamation point on a game the Cats were by then quite unlikely to lose. Tonight, situational awareness was lacking. There is no telling whether K-State would have gone on to win if he had simply scored the bucket to tie the game. But we’ll never get to know what impact getting the score tied might have had. All because of an unnecessary attempt at a highlight play, when the fundamental play was needed.
  2. That missed dunk might not have been the worst moment for Diarra—or the team—though. Players and coaches disagree sometimes, and with the season on a slow death march for six games, now, tensions can boil over. Coach Weber is as frustrated as anyone, but he has done an admirable job of keeping the squad fighting, so far. The effort has not resulted in wins, but the team has not given up. When an upper-classman who was featured as a team leader before the season starts chirping the way Diarra did, you have to question whether the team matters to him, anymore. It’s not as if Diarra has set a consistent example. It also does not seem as if Coach Weber has needlessly restricted his style of play. One might argue he’s been too patient with the showtime dribbling, wild passes, step-back threes and over-emphatic dunks. What is clear, after tonight, is that the talented junior has become a full-on distraction. And it’s just sad. He’s so athletic. He can be so fun to watch. He can bring so much to the team. Instead, he let pettiness boil over, and he let everyone down. Kudos to Coach Weber for sitting him. There’s a long talk coming between the two. No outcome would be surprising, after that unfortunate display.
  3. The defense wasn’t stellar, but it was good enough. Tech only found 46 shots, and live-ball turnovers gave K-State some easy buckets and allowed the Cats to keep it close. The seemingly renewed focus on getting the ball to rim is long overdue. These guys have not shown themselves to be shooters, so let’s get it close. It should pay off, especially if the Gordons, Sneed and Murphy can chase shots for second-chance points. But can it translate to a win?

Next Up

Texas comes calling on Saturday. The January 11 match in Austin was close until halftime, but after that the Longhorns got away for a 64-50 win. The Cats will need to bring more offense to extend the string of winning home seasons for K-State, which hangs in the balance with only Texas, Kansas and Iowa State remaining on the home schedule.