The Kansas State Wildcats don’t have a special nickname for Xavier Sneed when the postseason rolls around.
That needs to change ... immediately.
Sneed, a junior wing, plays his best basketball this time of year. And that trend continued during K-State’s 70-61 victory over TCU in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday at Sprint Center. He torched the Horned Frogs for 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists. An excellent stat line, to be sure, but it doesn’t begin to describe the full extent of his production.
All of his shots felt like daggers. He drained a corner three on the final play of the first half, he converted a four-point play with TCU trying to mount a comeback in the second half and then he clinched the game with a shot-clock beating three in the final minute.
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The ball was supposed to go to senior guard Barry Brown on that play, but it ended up with Sneed. He only had five seconds to shoot against pressure defense, but he stayed calm and hit a shot from the top of the key that gave the Wildcats a 66-60 lead with 56 seconds left.
“He made it like the shot was routine,” Brown said. “It was a big three in terms of momentum. I was looking around at other guys, not our guys but their guys, and you could tell they lost all of their momentum and all of their energy. I think that helped us seal the game.”
It wasn’t the first time Sneed has made a game-winning play in March.
He delivered several jaw-dropping dunks in the NCAA round of 32 against UMBC and followed that up with the game of his life in the Sweet 16 by scoring 22 points and grabbing nine rebounds in a win over Kentucky.
“He has played really well around this time,” Cartier Diarra said. “Remember what he did last year in the NCAA Tournament? He knows what time it is. He is in the zone.”
After Thursday, Sneed is averaging 19 points and seven rebounds in his past three postseason games.
No Dean Wade? No problem. At least not when Sneed moves away from his usual spot on the perimeter and roams the floor like a stretch four, the way Wade has throughout his K-State career.
“He is a big mismatch for any defense,” Brown said. “He can still move to the three and handle guys on the offensive end. But he is too quick moving around for a traditional four. Those guys can’t really guard him because he is running around the court and getting open shots.”
He did that well against TCU, but he was strangely quiet for most of the first half. It took him nearly 20 minutes to score his first points, and he received a tongue-lashing in the locker room.
Apparently, he forgot this was a postseason game.
“We all got after Xavier,” Weber said. “He struggled early and he didn’t have great body language. One time he said he wanted to come out and I said, ‘Heck with you, stay in there.’ I got after him a couple of times and the coaches got after him and he responded.”
Did he ever. Sneed had 16 points in the second half.
“Coach Weber and Barry lit a fire under me at halftime,” Sneed said. “They both talked to me and challenged me to come out and do more and produce more for my team.”
Sneed hopes to hit the ground running and build off this performance when K-State returns to action on Friday against Iowa State.
Odds are good he will do exactly that. This is the postseason, after all.
A few other thoughts from the game:
Welcome back Diarra
Sophomore guard Cartier Diarra played for the first time in a month, but he didn’t look rusty coming back from a broken finger on his shooting hand.
Diarra came off the bench to give the Wildcats eight points, five rebounds and three assists. He also threw down a crowd-pleasing alley-oop dunk and assisted Mike McGuirl on one of his own.
“It was magic,” Diarra said of the latter slam.
His outside shot seemed a bit off, as he attempted just two three-pointers and missed both, but he provided a nice boost over 29 minutes of action.
“He played great,” McGuirl said. “It’s hard to come back first game from an injury with dead legs. You’re tired and not used to the game energy. He did a good job with it and handled it well. He did a great job of getting in the lane and dishing.”
The only person who didn’t seem pleased with Diarra was himself. When asked to grade his own performance on a 1-to-10 scale he gave himself a four. Talk about a tough grader.
“I can do a lot better,” he said.
Adjusting without Wade
It seemed to take K-State about 10 minutes to adjust to life without Wade on the floor.
The Wildcats decided to start a big lineup that featured Austin Trice in place of Wade, and immediately fell behind 23-11. Trice, a junior forward, played the first six minutes and didn’t return.
K-State was much more effective with McGuirl and Diarra on the floor. And when starting center Makol Mawien left the game, Levi Stockard surprisingly gave the team a boost with eight points and two rebounds. It wasn’t that Trice necessarily played poorly, but the offense didn’t flow with two traditional bigs.
Things improved dramatically when Sneed moved to the four and the Wildcats went small.
Expect Weber to move Trice to the bench and roll with either McGuirl or Diarra in the starting lineup against Iowa State.