Without Makol Mawien, Kansas State would not have defeated TCU 73-68 on Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum.
You read that right.
Dean Wade was the MVP, continuing his recent stretch of torrid offense with 20 points, six assists and six rebounds. And Barry Brown made clutch plays to ice the game, including a pair of late free throws, finishing with 15 points and nine assists. But Mawien was a difference-maker, too.
“He was huge,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said.
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That had to come as a surprise to most K-State fans, as Mawien has been one of the least productive starters in the Big 12 this season, averaging 5.5 points and 3.2 rebounds. In his first six conference games he scored a total of 15 points and was flat-out benched in a blowout loss at Texas Tech.
After that one, Weber said Mawien had to learn how to play tougher if he wanted to stay in the rotation, let alone the starting lineup.
But something has changed since then. Mawien was genuinely good against the Horned Frogs, erupting for a career-high 18 points and five rebounds.
“I just told him that it’s not a welfare,” Weber said. “You have got to produce to get minutes. He has realized that. He has gained confidence.”
For motivation, Weber urged Mawien to play the way he does on one-on-one games against K-State assistant Brad Korn before practice. In that setting, he hits jumpers and drives to the hoop for impressive finishes. In games, it was often the opposite until recently.
He responded by quietly building to this moment. Mawien showed small signs of progress in games against Oklahoma State, Kansas and Oklahoma, bringing valuable intangibles to the floor that didn’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet.
His defense was strong and his screens led to open looks. He was solid, and K-State benefited.
Weber illustrated his contributions with a stat from K-State’s 87-69 victory over Oklahoma. Mawien, he said, topped everyone on the plus/minus chart. When he was on the floor, the Wildcats outscored the Sooners by 24.
“He has played very well. He has made a lot of strides,” Weber said. “ … His activity, all the things he did obviously had to be important. Slowly but surely, he is getting more confident and doing more things in practice.”
Added Mawien: “One thing I got better at is anticipating where to be at. I was trying to anticipate the game, be in the right position and was ready to score.”
Everything culminated for him against TCU. He had opportunities to step outside and shoot, and his teammates started to look for him. He ended up making 8 of 11 shots and blocked two shots. Most impressive of all, he played 36 minutes. More perspective: He hadn’t played more than 18 minutes in any other Big 12 game.
For once, K-State thrived with its big lineup.
That was the biggest positive to come out of this game for the Wildcats.
“I love the way he is playing,” Brown said. “He is coming with that energy, blocking shots, walling up and playing good defense making guys finish over him. I was trying to find him on pick and rolls. He was finishing and getting rebounds, doing all the scrappy plays we need and some of the skill plays, too.”
“I don’t think there is anything he can’t do,” Wade added. “He is playing with confidence right now and it’s showing.”
Big 12 contenders?
It was a good week for the Wildcats
On Tuesday, they knocked off Trae Young and No. 4 Oklahoma. On Saturday, they stayed hot and beat No. 24 TCU. They are on a winning streak against ranked teams for the first time since 2015
That could mean big things down the road. Don’t be surprised if at 14-5 and 4-3 in the Big 12 they start receiving votes for the top 25 and show up in NCAA Tournament projections.
After Monday’s road game against Baylor, K-State faces Georgia and Kansas at home. The schedule is set for success.
If the Wildcats take advantage with two or more wins, that could put them in position to challenge for a conference championship. They are currently in a three-way tie for third, but Brown wants more.
“We are already dangerous,” Brown said. “I feel like, if he keeps playing the way he is playing and even some of our other guys keep playing the way they are playing we are going to win the league. Honestly, we have all the tools. It is a matter of putting those games together … We are a good team. We have to go prove it every night.”
Throwback Day at Bramlage Coliseum was a resounding success. The Wildcats honored their past by wearing special lavender uniforms, the Horned Frogs did the same with special white uniforms and there were vintage graphics and logos all over the arena.
K-State should make it a yearly tradition.
Fans packed the arena, and players came out fired up. K-State made seven of its first nine shots and sprinted to a 29-17 lead. TCU trailed the entire way and its coach, Jamie Dixon, was ejected with 5:23 remaining for multiple technical fouls.
K-State players want to wear the uniforms again this season. Weber said that might happen. At the latest, the Wildcats will bring them back next year.
There’s a reason Throwback Thursday is a thing. People like nostalgia.
Lavender should return to K-State’s uniform rotation immediately.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett