Kansas State started slowly, while Texas Christian made its first three three-point attempts to open an early 9-5 lead in the teams’ quarterfinal match-up at the Big 12 basketball tournament at Sprint Center. The Horned Frogs would eventually stretch their lead to 23-11. But behind K-State’s usual defensive pressure and some unusual offensive production off the bench, K-State reeled in the Horned Frogs, took a lead 42-39 with just under fifteen minutes to play on a three-point bucket by Kamau Stokes, and led the rest of the way to a 70-61 victory.
Defense keyed the comeback, as K-State (25-7) forced 18 turnovers and scored often in transition. The Wildcats also got production off the bench, with Cartier Diarra returning to action after missing eight games with a broken ring finger to play 29 minutes and score eight points. Levi Stockard played an unexpected hero’s role, too, dropping in a career-high eight first half points of his own to keep K-State in the game when TCU was threatening to pull away.
TCU (20-13) led 34-32 at halftime and actually extended its lead to 39-34 after the break. But the Horned Frogs could only manage a single basket during a 17-2 K-State scoring run that gave the league co-champions a 51-41 lead. TCU did not go down without a fight, however, getting back to within three points, 53-50, with over five minutes to play.
Behind Stokes and Xavier Sneed, K-State stretched the lead back to nine, 63-54, but three stagnant offensive possessions allowed the Frogs to again cut the margin to three points, 63-60, with under two minutes to play. Sneed calmly connected on a clutch three-pointer and two free throws to seal the game for K-State.
Sneed led the Wildcats with 19 points on 6-12 shooting, including 4-8 from beyond the three-point arc. He also had five assists and seven rebounds. Not only did Sneed score his season high, but he hit big shots when they were needed most. More on this, later.
Barry Brown Jr. scored 12, but continued his shooting struggles, managing to make only 5-of-17 shots, including 2-7 from outside. Brown had six assists, offset by three turnovers. He played his usual stellar role on the defensive end, however, and was a major contributor in forcing TCU point guard Alex Robinson into six turnovers on the day.
Stokes had 11 points, and Makol Mawien added 10 to round out the double-digit scorers for K-State. Diarra and Stockard finished with eight points each.
TCU was led by Desmond Bane’s 16. Alex Robinson scored 12, and Kevin Samuel dropped in 11 for the Frogs.
Having advanced in the bracket, the Wildcats will play a semi-final contest against Iowa State, who looked impressive in crushing Baylor, 83-66, in today’s early game. The game will tip at 6:00 Friday evening.
What we Learned
- Post-season Sneed is the best Sneed. Throughout the NCAA tournament run last season, Xavier Sneed showed an ability to hit big shots in big moments. He did it again, today. His first came at the conclusion of the first half, when he nailed a three-pointer to close a five-point TCU lead to two, 34-32. In the second half, after TCU narrowed what had been a 10-point K-State lead to 55-52, he buried another three from the corner, getting fouled on the release. He made the free throw, as well, to regain a seven point advantage with 5:30 to play. When TCU again drew within three at the 1:29 mark, Sneed delivered yet another three, then calmly knocked down two free throws on the next possession to seal the win. With Dean Wade unavailable, K-State will need this version of Sneed as the competition ramps up.
- Welcome Back, Carti D. The Wildcats did well to finish out the regular season league championship without the services of Cartier Diarra, after he broke a finger on his shooting hand. Today, his return helped key the victory. Diarra’s athleticism created problems for TCU on the perimeter. He also collected five rebounds and three assists, while contributing 8 of K-State’s 18 (yes, 18!) points off the bench. Chances are pretty good he won’t replicate that particular stat against Iowa State tomorrow, though. Look for Diarra to be in the starting lineup against the athletic, perimeter-oriented Cyclones.
- Survive and advance. Though K-State had runs of beautiful basketball, particularly when it created turnovers or pushed long rebounds up the floor on the fast break, several stretches of the game looked ragged for both teams. The stakes of postseason have a lot to do with that. Fatigue and the lingering effects of a tough season have an impact, as well. Nobody is playing for style points, now, though. And really, with all the close games these ‘Cats have found a way to win in the Big 12, who would you rather have to gut out a tough victory in the post-season?