There’s a reason Kansas State basketball players urge Dean Wade to shoot.
When the freshman forward is at his best, he tends to do what he did during a 75-71 victory over Oklahoma State in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament on Wednesday at Sprint Center. Wade was the player of the game, scoring a career-high 20 points on nine shots to go with six rebounds.
The Cowboys had no answer for him. He drained three three-pointers, made plays in the paint and attacked the rim, forcing several Oklahoma State players into foul trouble. At one point, Wade finished a drive from the right wing with a thunderous dunk.
His teammates, who claim to see similar plays daily in practice, erupted with cheers from across the court and the bench. Though Wade was one of the best freshmen in the Big 12 this season, averaging 9.8 points and 5.1 rebounds while starting 29 games, this was his brightest moment.
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“He did really well,” senior guard Justin Edwards said. “We’re always pushing Dean and yelling at Dean to shoot the ball a lot. I would be happy if Dean shot 20 shots. I know most of them are going to go in. He played well on the big stage. He proved he was the freshman he can be and he did a good job.”
“It's been there at times all year for Dean,” added K-State coach Bruce Weber. “He was big-time for us tonight and gave us a chance to win.”
The Wildcats (17-15) needed a win, and Wade helped them secure one. They boosted their NIT hopes and advanced to the tournament quarterfinals, where they will face No. 1 Kansas at about 1:30 p.m. on Thursday. It will be the third Sunflower Showdown of the season. The Jayhawks won the first two.
Perhaps another strong effort from Wade could tip the scale in K-State’s favor. He is certainly fired up about the opportunity.
“I have always dreamed about playing in the Big 12 Tournament and I have wanted to have a big game here since I was young,” Wade said. “It was a surreal moment, but tomorrow is going to be a lot more surreal, with it being K-State and KU.”
What did Wade do so well Wednesday? The little things, such as avoiding early fouls.
That my sound insignificant, but few players have been plagued by cheap fouls in the opening minute more often than Wade. Several times this season, K-State coach Bruce Weber sat him on the bench for extended periods of the first half with multiple fouls. Not this time. Wade committed his first foul with 4:45 remaining in the game, an accomplishment Weber didn’t think possible.
“Normally he has two by the first TV timeout,” Weber said.
“I just had to learn to let some people go,” Wade said. “At the beginning of the season, I tried to contest everything. I learned something and finally let things go. It paid off, apparently.”
Everything seemed to go right for K-State in the beginning. It played superb defense, allowing the Cowboys to make two of their first 10 shots, and the two makes were layups that came after offensive rebounds.
With Edwards scoring 17 points and Wesley Iwundu adding 14, K-State raced to a 40-23 lead.
The rout appeared on, but Oklahoma State fought back behind a string of second-half three-pointers to make things close. When Leyton Hammonds hit a three with 1:25 remaining to make the score 70-64, the Wildcats were sweating.
K-State struggled at the free-throw line, making 21 of 35 shots, and that made it difficult to keep Oklahoma State at arm’s length. But the Wildcats kept them at arm’s length most of the way, and the Wildcats clinched the game, fittingly, on a pair of free throws from Wade with five seconds remaining.
“Make them,” Wade said. “That’s all I was thinking about, just making them. I blocked everything out, went through my routine and pictured the ball going in. It worked. It was a great feeling.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett