The Kansas State Wildcats defeated the West Virginia Mountaineers 65-51 on Monday at WVU Coliseum.
Bruce Weber’s team has logged prettier victories this season, but K-State (20-6, 10-3 Big 12) will take the result because it was enough to keep them atop the conference standings with five games remaining.
Here are some thoughts on the basketball game:
Master of the mid range
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Wichita Eagle
Whenever Barry Brown attempts a deep two-point jumper, someone is always there to let him know he made a bad decision.
Take one step back, and the shot would have been worth three points. Drive to the basket, and the shot would have been considerably easier. On paper, a long jumper is one of the worst shots in basketball. He hears something along those lines every time he takes the court.
But those criticisms no longer seem to matter. Brown is making a living off mid-range jumpers this season. So much so, that he is making a serious push for Big 12 Player of the Year.
Brown connected on 6 of 9 two-pointers on his way to a game-high 21 points against West Virginia, and he had everyone talking afterward.
“He’s playing as well as anyone in the country right now,” K-State forward Dean Wade said.
“His confidence is huge for us,” K-State guard Xavier Sneed said. “He plays like every shot is going in, and watching him play at a high level makes everyone else on the team feel like their shots are going to go in, too.”
“He’s terrific,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “I compare him to Jevon Carter in what he did here in his maturation process. He is a terrific defender and he has obviously become a very good offensive player ... He has improved from year to year to year. That’s obviously because he puts a lot of work in. He’s also a terrific leader. He keeps those other guys in line.”
Brown has come along way since his early days as a defensive stopper and an erratic shooter. His love for mid-range jumpers is one of the main reasons why.
Whenever he needs to score a clutch basket, he fakes like he is going to drive to the rim and steps back for a fade-away jumper. It’s what he did at the end of the first half here, with the score tied at 28. The short-handed Mountaineers were threatening to hand the Wildcats a loss they could ill afford, and he came through with an important shot that gave his team a halftime lead while the heel of his foot was on the three-point line.
Defenders don’t seem to know how to stop that particular shot.
“It’s kind of a lost art,” Brown said. “I don’t feel like a lot of people shoot mid range. It’s either all the way to the basket or threes, so the mid range is just another way to get the shot off. It’s different. Not a lot of people shoot that shot, because of analytics and deep twos and stuff like that. It’s a lost art, and it helps me get going and get in a rhythm.”
Indeed, Brown has always had this in his game. But he began putting a greater emphasis on two-pointers when Big 12 games began, and his numbers soared. He is averaging 18.1 points in conference games, a number that ranks third behind KU forward Dedric Lawson (18.8) and Iowa State’s Marial Shayok (18.2).
That’s good enough to put him in the conversation for the Big 12’s top individual honor, especially with K-State all alone in first place.
He is arguably the best defender in the league, and the stats show he is also one of the best scorers in the league. Weber thinks he could win Big 12 Player of the Year.
“There is no doubt he has played at a high level,” Weber said. “He has been a great leader for us. He plays both ends of the court ... You want honors, you have got to win. That is the big thing. You have got to keep winning. If he keeps playing at this high level ...”
Weber didn’t finish his thought. He didn’t have to. Brown, and his sensational mid-range game, made a statement with another impressive showing Monday.
Dean Wade injury update
It sounded like K-State would play this game without its star senior forward when Bruce Weber said Dean Wade suffered a “soft-tissue” injury to his right foot last week and limped off the floor late against Iowa State.
But Wade’s playing status improved from doubtful to questionable to active as game time approached.
He wasn’t at full strength, and never attacked the basket, but he finished with 10 points and six rebounds in 32 minutes.
“I had to play in this one,” Wade said. “We have never won here. I wanted to be part of the game where we finally beat these guys in this building. It just meant a lot.”
Weber said senior point guard Kamau Stokes was also questionable for this game with a foot injury. He was proud of both players for helping the team get a “gutsy win.”
Wade had the desire. Team doctors and trainers did the rest, working with him for two straight days to help him get into game shape.
He wasn’t sure how close he was to full strength, but Wade felt good enough to run up and down the floor at full speed and avoid long stays on the bench. He’s not sure he could have dunked, but with four days off before the next game he is hopeful to throw one down on Saturday against Oklahoma State.
Trouble at the five
The Wildcats nearly ran out of big men trying to defend West Virginia center Derek Culver.
K-State centers Makol Mawien (three), James Love (four), Levi Stockard (four), Nigel Shadd (one) and Austin Trice (zero) all took turns against him and combined for 12 fouls. That created a revolving door for Weber at the five.
Making matters worse, Mawien had trouble scoring when he was in the game. K-State’s starting center missed three (yes, three) open dunks against the Mountaineers. He finished with seven points and six rebounds, but those misses are what most will remember.
Of course, he was still leaps and bounds better than his backups. K-State’s reserve big men combined for no points, one rebound and two turnovers.
The Wildcats need someone to step up behind Mawien. Early this season, it seemed like Trice would help off the bench. But he only played four minutes in a game where there was rampant foul trouble. The coaching staff clearly doesn’t trust him.
Stockard has been the next man up in most games, and he could seriously help the Wildcats in future games by contributing as little as five points and two rebounds when called upon.
X-Factor from the outside
Xavier Sneed didn’t seem destined for a big game when he missed two easy layups in the first half, but he got hot from the outside in the second half and finished with 19 points and seven rebounds.
The junior guard connected on five three-pointers and helped the Wildcats pull away midway through the second half after West Virginia tied the score at 42.
“My team was confident in me, even when I got off to a slow start,” Sneed said. “When they show confidence in me, I’m going to keep taking shots I know I can make, and they went in tonight.”
Sneed consistently does a little bit of everything for the Wildcats, but he is a streaky shooter. When he gets hot, K-State is very hard to beat.