K-State overcomes slow start against TCU in Big 12 quarterfinals

K-State sophomore guard Cartier Diarra prepares to throw the ball across the court to senior guard Barry Brown. The Wildcats faced off against the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs in their first game of the Big 12 Tournament in the Sprint Center in Kansas City, MO, finding victory with a finish of 70-61. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

It was a rough start to the Big 12 tournament for top seed Kansas State.

The Wildcats shot just 2-8 to start the game and falling behind by as many as 12 points in the first half before pulling it together to beat TCU 70-61.

“I’m so proud of these guys, they have continued to fight and be resilient and they got 25 wins,” head coach Bruce Weber said.

K-State’s first half comeback was powered (surprisingly) by eight points from sophomore forward Levi Stockard and (unsurprisingly)10 points from senior guard Barry Brown.

“We just came out dry,” Brown said. “We didn’t have the right energy, didn’t have the right mindset.”

Stockard scored six points in a stretch of just over two minutes as part of an 8-2 run that cut the TCU lead to just three.

“Levi definitely stepped up today,” senior guard Kamau Stokes said. “He gave us a post presence and defensively he did a pretty good job.”

A turnover by the Horned Frogs led to a wild loose ball. The ball wound up in the hands of Brown, who found Stokes on an outlet pass.

Stokes pushed it to sophomore guard Cartier Diarra, who lobbed it over a trailing Horned Frog to fellow sophomore guard Mike McGuirl. He slammed it home to cut the lead to one. The momentum began to shift.

A big three from junior guard Xavier Sneed put the Wildcats down just two at halftime, 34-32.

TCU stretched their lead out to five to start the second half. Then, junior forward Makol Mawien made a jumpshot and K-State forced a turnover. The Wildcats were down one.

On the ensuing possession, Stokes was fouled on a driving layup. After getting up gingerly, Stokes knocked down the first free throw, missed the second and drilled a corner three off the rebound. K-State led 42-39.

The sizable K-State contingent at the Sprint Center in Kansas City came alive after a Mawien transition dunk. K-State was on a 12-2 run that would eventually balloon to a 19-4 run that lasted nearly nine minutes.

K-State’s defense clamped down during that stretch as well. They forced one shot clock violation, had two blocked shots by Mawien and generally did not let TCU get very many good looks at the basket.

“We came out and played Kansas State defense, we really pressured the ball, deflected passes and got rebounds,” Brown said.

The Wildcats looked like they would coast to a semifinal appearance, but the game slowed down on offense after the under four-minute media timeout.

The refusal to run an offense allowed TCU to crawl back into the game and cut the lead to three with 1:28 to play.

The Wildcats again waited out the entire shot clock before Sneed rose up at the top of the key with one second left to knock down a three with less than a minute left.

“The plays that we made toward the end of the game pretty much broke their spirit,” Stokes said.

Sneed led K-State with 19 points. He also had seven rebounds and five assists in 33 minutes of play.

“I got after [Sneed] a couple times, and the coaches got after him, and he responded,” Weber said.

The Wildcats took a 66-60 lead late and hit their free throws to ice out a win and move on in the tournament.

K-State had four players in double-figures: Sneed had 19, Brown scored 12, Stokes put in 11 and Mawien added 10 points. Mawien also had eight rebounds and two blocked shots.

Diarra had eight points, five rebounds and three assists in 29 minutes in his first game back from a hand injury. He had not played since early February.

The next game for K-State will be against Iowa State on Friday at 7:00 pm. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.