Tragedy appeared to strike the Wildcats in Lubbock, Texas, when junior point guard Kamau Stokes went down with an apparent foot injury in a loss to Texas Tech. Stokes was averaging 13.4 points for the Wildcats, but more importantly, he was playing over 30 minutes per game.
This K-State team is unusually plagued by a lack of depth; its bench has provided 12.8 percent of the team’s offense this season. The loss of a very productive only 15 games into the season should spell doom for a team that relies on its starters so much.
Enter redshirt freshman guard Cartier Diarra. Diarra, who missed his first season on campus due to a torn ACL, has stepped up in huge fashion. He has averaged 17 points in his three starts for the Wildcats.
More importantly, Diarra has averaged over 35 minutes in his starts — college basketball is a 40-minute game.
“He has stepped up a ton since [Stokes] went down,” junior forward Dean Wade said after a home win against the University of Oklahoma. “He’s playing with ultimate confidence. He’s big for us.”
Those minutes are invaluable for K-State. Every minute that Diarra plays is one less minute that K-State’s unassuming bench is on the floor.
Diarra has been impacting the game in a different way than Stokes. In moments when Stokes would shoot, Diarra takes it to the basket.
That’s not to say that Diarra can’t shoot. He has been hitting three point shots at a ridiculous 49 percent clip.
“He takes it to the basket strong,” Wade said. “I think it was two or three possessions in a row where he came off a ball screen and went and scored. That is huge for us.”
Diarra was important in K-State’s win against a top-five Oklahoma. He gave K-State 16 points and five assists.
Diarra isn’t just filling in for Stokes on offense, as he is also doing it on the defensive end. He grabbed a pair of steals against Oklahoma and a pair in K-State’s road loss at the University of Kansas. Stokes was averaging 1.4 steals a game over his 15 starts this year.
“He’s got long arms, he’s getting steals. He’s just playing great on-ball defense,” Wade said.
Even KU head coach Bill Self was impressed with Diarra’s performance in K-State’s loss at Allen Fieldhouse.
“He was great, he was terrific,” Self said. “He controlled the second half for them. He’s really, really good. We’re going to be watching and seeing him over the next three years.”