Kansas State did some good things against No. 1 Baylor Monday night.
Notably, Xavier Sneed broke out of a slump with 23 points by hitting some tough shots and throwing down one of the most ferocious dunks you will see this season. Things were clicking on both ends of the court for stretches and the Wildcats showed some very impressive resilience after falling behind big early.
At the end of the day, though, Baylor is a better, deeper basketball team and KSU just couldn’t play consistently enough, yet again, to avoid a 73-67 home loss. The Bears extended their winning streak to 19 games as K-State fell to 2-7 in Big 12 play, their worst record halfway through the conference season since the 2015-16 season.
Kansas State appeared to be as hungover as the students for the first 7 minutes, falling behind 20-4 without making a field goal against Baylor’s excellent man-to-man defense. Jared Butler hit two threes and scored eight of his team-high 20 points while the Cats committed five turnovers.
Things turned around thanks to improbable perfect free throw shooting and some scoring from an unlikely source. Makol Mawien showed some strength inside and didn’t miss any easy ones, resulting in six quick points.
Xavier Sneed hit a tough fadeaway jumper and then Mak hit two free throws before K-State’s offense ran out of juice again. Two offensive rebounds preceded Devonte Bandoo’s 3-pointer with 6:11 left in the first half to end a scoring drought of nearly six minutes and start a 7-0 run for Baylor.
Cartier Diarra, Montavious Murphy and Xavier Sneed responded with threes on consecutive possession as the defense continued to lock things down. Then two stupid plays by Diarra – a bad pass and an ill-advised 3 – ruined any chance of cutting the Baylor lead to less than three.
The aforementioned X dunk made it 31-28 with 17 seconds left, but Mak’s inability to protect the rim hurt again when 6-2 guard Davion Mitchell drove in for a layup over K-State’s 6-9 forward just before the buzzer. Amazingly, Kansas State shot 43% from 3 and 88% from the free throw line in the first half, but there were just too many turnovers and two-point shooting was largely a disaster.
Six more empty possessions to open the second half wasted some great defense and although K-State managed to hit layups on consecutive trips, Baylor’s offense got going as well with a Davion Mitchell three and 3-point play for Freddie Gillespie. The Bears hit a couple more threes over the next six minutes and stretched their advantage out to 59-43 before one last push from Kansas State.
Naturally, that got derailed by a missed layup and turnover from Carti, although he did at least hit his lone three during that stretch. The junior finished with 4 turnovers and made just 3-9 shots from the field.
Kansas State cut it to six on a meaningless Carti three with 8.4 seconds left to get him to double figures with 11 points, but it never really felt like the Cats could get over the hump after halftime. Still, one has to wonder what might have happened if K-State hadn’t looked so inept to open the game.
Certainly, it wasn’t Baylor’s best game either, as evidenced by 14 turnovers and 16-27 shooting from the free throw line. K-State needed to make this game ugly to have a chance and largely did, but it still wasn’t enough.
Three in the Key
1. The Carti problem. I’m really not sure what Bruce and his staff should do with Diarra at this point. He’s a turnover waiting to happen (4 more tonight), forces way too many stupid shots, and worst of all, often doesn’t seem to care. The best examples of this came on long rebounds from two of his missed threes, when he failed to get back on defense and Baylor capitalized with easy transition buckets. I’ve been an advocate for him to be in the lineup most of this season, but that stance is getting harder and harder to defend. And yet….Carti can still be an effective scorer and solid defender when he elects to use his elite athletic ability. Making things more difficult, David Sloan, took a step back tonight with 0 points on 0-of-4 shooting in limited minutes, perhaps because he was more of a liability on defense against Baylor’s quick guards. He’s shows some effectiveness as a true point guard who takes care of the ball exceptionally well, and he’s crafty enough to score some points, but Sloan’s lack of an credible jump shot most nights leaves a lot to be desired offensively.
2. Kansas State actually made some free throws! Is it a little sad we’re celebrating a night when the Cats shot 79% from the line? Perhaps. Maybe, just maybe, this will be a good wakeup call to prove making free throws can be valuable in keeping a game close. Special shoutout to Makol Mawien, Montavious Murphy and Levi Stockard, who combined to shoot a perfect 7-7.
3. The schedule’s getting a bit easier. Kansas State’s now staring down a rare five-game stretch in conference play without a ranked opponent, although Texas Tech could easily be ranked by the time the Cats get to Lubbock. First up is this weekend’s winnable trip to Ames, followed by the easiest game of the year vs. Oklahoma State in Manhattan, then trips to TCU and Texas Tech before Texas visits Bramlage. If Kansas State wants to finish higher than ninth place, it needs to win at least two, preferably three of those games.