The three-pointer swished through the basket. Sophomore guard Xavier Sneed held his shooting arm up as he watched it crinkle the net. Shouting and gesturing with three fingers outstretched on each hand, he ran down the court in the 61-58 Kansas State win over Kentucky, Thursday night.
It was his night, he would foul out with just over five minutes left after scoring 22 points and providing nine rebounds.
“[Sneed] was huge,” freshman guard Cartier Diarra said. “The last couple games he has not been making his threes and the shots that he likes, but this game it was falling.”
‘X,’ as he is called by his teammates and coach Bruce Weber, was just the latest in a string of Wildcats to step up this offseason since junior forward Dean Wade went down with an apparent foot injury.
The First Team All-Big 12 forward has played just eight minutes since the final buzzer sounded in the Wildcat’s overtime victory over TCU in Kansas City, Missouri. He’s scored four points since then.
It is not a secret that Wade is the best player on this Wildcat team, yet the Wildcats are 3-1, including the Kentucky game, since his injury.
Another teammate, usually someone who is a role-player has supplemented Wade’s 16.2 points per game.
In the first game without Wade, a loss to Kansas in the second round of the Big 12 Tournament, it was sophomore forward Makol Mawien gave the Wildcats 29 points in 34 minutes of game-play. He averages just 6.9 points in just over 20 minutes per game.
“Certainly their big kid, Mawien, was the best player in the game, without question,” Kansas head coach Bill Self told the Collegian after that game.
Although Mawien played well and deserves credit for helping to carry the team, he certainly benefitted from the absence of Kansas sophomore Udoka Azibuike.
K-State had a little time off to game plan around Dean Wade’s injury before their first round date with Creighton.
In the Creighton game, it was freshman guard Mike McGuirl—who was supposed to redshirt this season—who filled Wade’s shoes. McGuirl had his redshirt pulled after junior guard Kamau Stokes went down mid-season.
The 6-foot-2 freshman scored 17 points in 22 minutes, he was 3-5 from three-point range. The only player on the court who topped him was his teammate, junior guard Barry Brown, who had 18.
The Wildcat’s next game was a run-in with the miraculous Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers, who had just become the first 16 seed to advance into the tournament’s second round.
K-State won a down-right ugly affair 50-43. They got 18 points from the ever-consistent Brown. Mawien was the only other Wildcat in double-figures, but it was Sneed who made the important plays down the stretch.
He hit a baseline jump-shot to push the lead to 46-41, he also had a steal-and-slam and emphatic put-back to seal the win.
To account for the lack of size and depth, Weber has used a small 4-around-1 offensive look, and even went to a five guard set against the bigger, longer, faster Kentucky Wildcats when both of his forwards were in foul trouble.
“We were playing with 6’4″ and under, and they’re one of the biggest teams in the country,” Weber said.
Of course, Brown was a constant throughout the season, and the post-Wade Wildcats are no exception. The bench-scoring, though, has not been there hardly at all this season.
There was a point when the Wildcats were getting six points off the bench on a good night, but if Wade comes back and plays the way he was before the injury and K-State continues to get this kind of production off the bench they will be a tough out.