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Cats can’t overcome big early deficit; fall to Cyclones, 73-63

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Haven’t we lived through this Groundhog Day performance often enough?

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Iowa State
Cartier Diarra started the game and hit shots in Ames. It wasn’t quite enough.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

You know the words, K-State fans. Sing along with me.

Kansas State started the game against Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum in a 21-2 hole, cut the deficit to four twice in the second half, but ultimately succumbed to the Cyclones, 73-63, in Ames, Iowa Saturday evening.

With the Baylor/Oklahoma State game running late, the ESPN2 telecast missed about the first seven minutes of the game. You would not have wanted to see it, anyway. Apparently, neither the offense nor the defense of Kansas State (9-14, 2-8 Big 12) showed up until the broadcast lights came on. The Wildcats missed their first 11 shots from the field and committed five turnovers before Cartier Diarra finally connected on the team’s first field goal—a three-pointer that, coupled with two early free throws, pulled the Cats to within 21-5.

Iowa State (10-13, 3-7), meanwhile, made six of its first 11 shots. K-State had absolutely no answer for Cyclone forward Solomon Young, who scored 11 of his team’s first 15 points.

The ‘Clones eventually cooled off and got careless with the ball, allowing K-State to cut the deficit to a manageable 37-28 margin at the half. As has been the pattern, unfortunately, the Cats fell farther back after the break, as Iowa State found lanes to the basket and knocked down a trio of jumpers to stretch their lead to 14 (49-35) before K-State again made a push.

But the Wildcats did not lie down. Diarra hit a three-point basket, and Makol Mawien, Antonio Gordon and Xavier Sneed wrapped lay-ups around a David Sloan free throw to get K-State within four, 49-45, at the midpoint of the second half. But a blown defensive assignment on the next possession left Iowa State’s Prentiss Nixon alone to bury a three-pointer. K-State would get within four points again with just under eight minutes to play. But the Wildcats could never claw any closer, as they lost by 10.

The outcome marks the Cats’ third straight loss and their fifth in six games. It also continues a frustrating trend of starting poorly, fighting back, but ultimately falling short. This one was perhaps most frustrating, given that they played both No. 12 West Virginia and No. 1 Baylor closer than they did the now 10-13 Cyclones.

Diarra returned to the starting line-up and responded, leading the team with 24 points on 7-15 shooting, including 5-11 from three-point range. He also had three assists and three blocked shots, offset by three turnovers. DaJuan Gordon was the only other Wildcat to reach double-figures, scoring 10 points on a 3-10 shooting night.

After his 11 early points, Young finished with 20 for the Cyclones, making 7-of-9 shots from the floor and 6-of-7 free throws. Guard Rasir Bolton made four mostly meaningless free throws late to cap off his 13-point performance, and Terrence Lewis iced the game with a contested-three pointer from the corner that extinguished any flickering hope for the Cats and gave him 12 points for the game.

At times, both teams showed why they have struggled this season. Iowa State looked as if it might run away with the game, but helped K-State stay in the game with sloppy ball-handling and shoddy shot selection. The Wildcats committed 16 turnovers, while the Cyclones had 17. Iowa State made 24 of 53 shots (45.3%), while K-State hit only 22 of 58 (37.9%). The Cats actually outshot the Clones from outside (29% to 26%), but Iowa State made 19 of 20 free throws, while K-State hit only 10 of 18.

All of this, by now, sounds entirely too familiar. K-State will try to right the ship at home against Oklahoma State—who pushed No. 1 Baylor to the very end in Waco today before falling, 78-70—Tuesday night in Bramlage. On paper, that should be a winnable game. On paper, this one was, too.

Three in the Key

  1. Diarra was much better tonight, but still had bouts of sloppy passing and defensive lapses that make him a bit of a paradox, even on his good nights. Fran Fraschilla called him out on the Big Monday broadcast against Baylor as a talented guy whose head just didn’t seem to be with his team. He still seemed a little detached at times in this game, still stood in place dribbling the ball far too much, still exhibited some bad body language when a lazy point-to-wing pass (through no fault of his own) never reached him, and his man raced it down the floor to score. Credit to Carti for the progress. But from an upper-classman who was expected to lead, we still need more.
  2. Xavier Sneed was on the cold cycle of his hot-and-cold February. Worse, he seemed to be suffering from some sort of abdominal ailment that caused him, first, to foul just to get the clock stopped so he could come out, and later, to grab his side after stealing the ball and throwing down an impressive reverse dunk. Let’s hope it’s nothing serious, so he can finish his senior year strong.
  3. Stats show that, apart from the free throw discrepancy, this was an even game. You might have expected that, given the teams’ identical records coming in. Now, the Wildcats are staring up at the Cyclones and lead only Oklahoma State in the Big 12 standings. Lose Tuesday night, and they will lead nobody. The team has showed itself only good enough on a nightly basis to play just about everybody close, and not quite good enough to finish with the lead, unless they get a transcendent performance from outside. We all know by now how rare those performances have been. Coaches need to be on the guys to bring the intensity of the home game against West Virginia every night. They are not the Chiefs; they are not talented enough to get behind big and count on coming all the way back. Their best hope is to ugly up the game, keep the opposition close, and hope they can wear them down and pull away late. Easy to say. But it’s been proving very difficult to do.