Remove Dean Wade from the lineup and the Kansas State basketball team becomes unpredictable.
Sometimes the Wildcats rally around his absence and play at a high level the way they did last year in the NCAA Tournament. Other times, they go cold and look abysmal.
We saw a little bit of both from K-State during a 70-61 victory over TCU in the quarterfinal round of the Big 12 Tournament on Thursday at the Sprint Center.
The Wildcats looked out of sorts in the opening moments without their star forward and fell behind by 12 points in the first half. But they eventually adjusted to life with him on the bench, wearing a walking boot on his right foot, and steamrolled the Horned Frogs the rest of the way.
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“It’s human nature after Saturday night to win a championship, to celebrate like that,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “To come back, I didn’t think we had great emotion to start the game, not very good energy.”
K-State advances now advances to the semifinals, where it will play Iowa State at 6 p.m. on Friday.
“I feel like our defensive intensity picked up,” Wildcats guard Kamau Stokes said. “We were lethargic in the beginning of the game and second half Coach Weber challenged us to defend those guys.”
Perhaps the Wildcats can hit the ground running in that game. They might have simply needed a few minutes to get acclimated to life without Wade against TCU, because things went much smoother for Bruce Weber’s team after the opening moments.
Xavier Sneed led the way with a season-high matching 19 points, Barry Brown added 12, Stokes had 10 and Makol Mawien had his latest quality game in this building, finishing with 10 points and seven rebounds.
Still, Thing started ominously for the Wildcats.
TCU jumped to a 23-11 lead midway through the first half behind a hot Desmond Bane (16 points) and K-State seemed to have answers. It made just two of its first 12 shots and looked a smidge disinterested after sharing the regular season Big 12 championship with Texas Tech.
Austin Trice made his first start in this game, but he only played six minutes. It was reserve forward Levi Stockard who came off the bench and made a big difference. The sophomore from St. Louis matched his career high by scoring eight points on five shots in the first half. Not bad, considering he only played eight minutes.
But he had lots of help, particularly from Cartier Diarra. The sophomore guard returned to the court after an eight-game absence because of a broken finger on his shooting hand and looked like his athletic self.
Stokes found Diarra for a crowd-pleasing alley-oop dunk midway through the first half, and he later connected with Mike McGuirl for a similar highlight.
The ball movement leading up to that play was exceptional. It began with Stokes grabbing a loose ball and flipping it forward to Diarra, who effortlessly floated a pass of his own to McGuirl for the jam.
McGuirl flexed his muscles afterward.
That sparked a strong finish to the first half that ended with Xavier Sneed connecting on a corner three at the buzzer. TCU led 34-32, but K-State had all the momentum. This no longer looked like a repeat of unsightly losses to Tulsa or Texas A&M.
K-State took its first lead on a three-pointer from Kamau Stokes at the 14:48 mark of the second half and never looked back.
The Wildcats quickly stretched their lead to 10 and squashed any hope of a comeback from the Frogs when Sneed converted a four-point play with 5:27 remaining. Stokes followed with a driving layup and Diarra hit a pair of free throws. K-State led 63-54.
TCU fought until the end, but Sneed held off the Frogs with a shot-clock beating three in the final moment.
“The fast-break points were really key and Xavier in the second half really stepped up,” Weber said.