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K-State recovers from 16-point deficit to beat Southern Mississippi, 55-51

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On Saturday, Dean Wade and Kamau Stokes went down to injuries. Thank goodness Kam was able to play tonight.

NCAA Basketball: Kennesaw State at Kansas State
Kamau Stokes scored K-State’s first 13 points of the second half, averting disaster against Southern Miss.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

In their first game since Dean Wade’s injury, K-State (8-2) started well, running out to a 7-0 lead over Southern Mississippi (7-4). The team also finished on a 34-16 run over the last 14:27 of the game. Between those two benchmark moments, the Wildcats were any synonym you want to choose for awful, especially on the offensive end of the floor.

K-State won, 55-51, largely due to a heroic scoring effort by Kamau Stokes, who (after K-State turned the ball over on 4 of its first 5 possessions after halftime) scored the team’s first 13 second half points to begin erasing what had been a 16-point deficit moments before.

K-State fell out of the rankings this week. But the Golden Eagles are not a squad the Cats should have struggled to beat, even without Dean Wade. Their three losses coming in were to Wichita State, the University of North Florida, and NAIA member William Carey. If you’ve heard of that school before, you either had a relative attend there or must have a powerful affinity for small school sports.

The problem—as it seems to have been most of the year—was K-State’s inability to create good shots and its ineptitude in making the shots it did find. In the first half, the Wildcats made only 8 of 26 attempts, including 0-9 from three-point range. They had as many turnovers as made field goals.

Southern Miss, meanwhile, overcame its cold start by running crisp offense, making the extra pass, and knocking down open looks. At the break, the visitors led 31-19. It did not feel even that close.

We will try to take a balanced approach. But, keep in mind, this is a fan site. It will be hard. First the problems.

K-State shot terribly from the floor and the free throw line before finally catching fire in the last fourteen minutes to salvage 45.5% (20-44) marks from the floor, and 55% (11-20) from the free throw line. Especially with Wade out, the Cats will need to value the ball and generate offense off of turnovers. Tonight they turned the ball over 17 times to only 8 for Southern Miss, and the Golden Eagles outscored them in points off turnovers 18-11. Barry Brown was only 6-16 from the field, and 0-3 from deep. As a team, K-State was 4-16 from outside, with Stokes being the only player to make one.

Now, the positives.

Well...they won, and overcame a huge deficit to do it. That’s undoubtedly the biggest thing. This was not a loss they could afford. Not at home, and not against a team of this caliber, with KenPom rating of 129. It was a gut check, for sure. Fortunately, word made it to the bridge just in time to allow the S.S. Wildcat to avoid the season-sinking iceberg.

K-State locked down defensively in the second half, holding Doc Sadler’s squad to 20 points, after allowing 31 in the first frame. Stokes’ unflappable confidence paid off, as he found a shooting rhythm and carried the team until others woke up and joined in. Xavier Sneed ably filled the rebounding gap left in Wade’s absence, pulling down 14 boards.

There may be other positives, but you have to look hard for them, and the game was not one to make a fan focus on the few positives.

Stokes led the way for K-State with 18 points and was clearly the player of the game. Brown had 15 points and seven rebounds. Sneed scored 8, to accompany his 14 boards. Diarra had an impressive run-out dunk and finished with four points. But he was only 2-6 at the line and turned the ball over five times.

Southern Miss was led by Cortez Edwards, who scored 18.

Lots of things to clean up before the next game, a Saturday contest against Vanderbilt in Sprint Center. The Commodores are 7-2, and knocked off No. 18 Arizona State, 81-65, on Monday.