Turns out, the formula for ending a 10-game losing streak was pretty simple. Just start erstwhile walk-on Pierson McAtee on Senior Day and get him a backdoor cut for a dunk off a high-post pass from fellow senior Makol Mawien to start the game. Then, get the third senior and the team’s best player, Xavier Sneed, to pour in 26 points before halftime and a career-high 31 for the day. Finally, get Cartier Diarra to cross a guy’s feet up so badly that he almost falls down while the flashy junior rises up and cans a three-pointer, laughing at his own exploit.
That’s all it took. K-State (10-21, 3-15 Big 12) did all of that and got solid contributions up and down the roster to dispatch Iowa State (12-19, 5-13) by a convincing 79-63 count to close out the regular season in Bramlage Coliseum. With the win, the Wildcats continue a run of now-74 straight home seasons without a losing record.
Sneed was on fire from the opening tip. He hit three-pointers on K-State’s second and third possessions and appeared to be shooting at a rim the size of a hula hoop, making 7 of his first 8 attempts. He scored 14 of K-State’s first 18 points, a mark he reached by the absurdly early mark of 12:08 the first half. Only the officials, it turns out, could slow him down. At 11:54, Sneed was whistled for a dubious foul (there were plenty of those, going both ways; go ahead and fine me, Big 12!) and went to the bench with the Cats up 18-9.
A drought ensued because, even on good days, K-State will have droughts. Over the next three minutes, as the Wildcats failed to score, Iowa State crawled back to within 18-15. After a 30-second timeout, the Cats started their own run with a Step-back 3-pointer from Diarra, who followed that with a couple of free throws. Sneed re-entered the contest with 7:16 to play, and Mike McGuirl set McAtee up for his second basket with a nifty assist in the lane. The margin was suddenly nine again, 25-16.
In fact, Iowa State fans suffered through a K-State-like scoring funk of their own, as the Cyclone sat on 16 points from the 8:03 mark until Prentiss Nixon finally put them back in the scoring column with two free throws nearly five minutes later.
Sneed just kept scoring, though. By the half, he had made 8 of 11 attempts from the floor, 4-7 from three-point range and 6-6 at the free throw line. He willed his team to a big lead, and once the Wildcats stretched it to double-figures, they never let the Cyclones close to single digits again.
With his 31 points, Sneed became the fourth K-State player of the Coach Weber era to eclipse 30 points in a game, joining Marcus Foster, Dean Wade, and Barry Brown, who did it twice.
We have chronicled the Cats’ shooting woes thoroughly this season. No such weakness affected them today. They connected on 29 of 56 attempts from the field (51.8%), including 8-26 from three (30.8%). Iowa State, meanwhile, made only 6-24 (25%) in the first half and 21-55 (38.2%) for the game. The usually-solid outside shooters from Ames made only 2 of 21 three-point attempts, good for a ghastly 9.5%.
To be fair, the ‘Clones were without Tyrese Haliburton, who was injured when the Wildcats played them last month, and Rasir Bolton today. Haliburton, who shot 41.9% from outside before his injury, has been a major loss for Steve Prohm’s squad.
Several Wildcats had good days, obviously. In addition to his 31 points, Sneed had four rebounds, four assists and three steals. Diarra was second-leading scorer with 14, and he added five assists and a steal, with only one turnover. During one stretch of the second half, Mike McGuirl put on a clinic around the rim, converting an assist from Sneed, getting a pull-up jumper to go down in the lane, and driving to the hoop and scoring over Iowa State’s Solomon Young so aggressively that the surprise registered on the Cyclone big man’s face. Mike had 10 points on 5-7 shooting, three rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Pierson McAtee finished his regular-season career with a career-high 6 points. A couple of three-pointers rimmed out, or he'd have reached double-figures. That would have been extra special.
Mawien had a forgettable day, fouling out with a single point. In his place, Levi Stockard hit both of his shots, collected four rebounds, threw an assist, and ripped off three steals.
All of the seniors received walk-off moments, and the crowd showed its appreciation, despite the disappointments this season.
Young had 17 points, and Terrence Lewis had 11 for Iowa State.
Three in the Key
- Coach Weber said after the game that freshman DaJuan Gordon had texted him and suggested that McAtee should start on senior day in his place. That is a tremendous, unselfish gesture for the highly-touted recruit out of Chicago. It’s also a sign of maturity that could blossom into much-needed leadership. Well done, young man.
- After winning big today, K-State’s record in close games this season remains the same. The Cats are 3-14 in games decided by ten points or fewer. A few more days shooting like today—or even just a tiny bit better than their season average, and the final record would not have been nearly as frustrating. Here’s hoping that some of the newcomers are reliable scorers and that returning players will get in the gym on their own time and work on the right things to correct this most glaring of problems before next season tips off.
- The Big 12 continued to inflict self-harm today, as Texas lost big at home to Oklahoma State, and TCU coughed up a giant lead at home and lost on a last-second bucket by OU’s Austin Reaves. (Reaves, by the way, in a “Xavier who?” performance, dropped 41 on the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth.) Third through sixth places in the conference standings now belong to Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia, in that order, all of whom sport identical 9-9 conference records.
So, while it appeared coming into the day that Texas would be the three seed, OU stole that spot from them. While it appeared for most of the afternoon that K-State would play OU in the first game of the Big 12 tournament, they will instead face off against TCU Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ESPNU, with the winner playing No. 2 Baylor in the quarterfinals.