ANALYSIS: How men’s basketball avoided second-half collapse against West Virginia

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Junior guard David Sloan looks across the court for an open play during the men’s basketball game against West Virginia in Bramlage Coliseum on Jan. 18, 2020. The Wildcats beat the Mountaineers, 84-68. (Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

The men’s basketball team found a footing in Big 12 play Saturday afternoon with its first conference win of the season, an 84-68 drubbing of No. 12 West Virginia at home. The Wildcats moved to 1-4 in conference play behind a performance that felt different from the way they’ve played for the rest of the season.

Kansas State built a huge early lead behind 42 first-half points. The Wildcats held West Virginia to just 36 percent from the field and 25 points in the half.

A key part of that lead was freshman guard DaJuan Gordon, who stuffed the first half stat sheet with 13 points and four steals. The newcomer provided the spark that K-State needed.

“DaJuan really stepped up and gave us a nice spark,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “We played off of that.”

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Senior forward Xavier Sneed jumps up for a layup during the men’s basketball game against West Virginia in Bramlage Coliseum on Jan. 18, 2020. The Wildcats secured an upset victory against the Mountaineers, 84-68. (Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

K-State continued to outplay West Virginia into the second half, but then West Virginia started their run.

“We won the first four minutes in the second half,” Weber said. “You knew they were going to make a push at us. We were just very casual on some of those passes.”

The Mountaineers pressed K-State in the backcourt and forced seven turnovers and went on a 23-7.

“I definitely can’t have that many [turnovers],” redshirt junior guard Cartier Diarra said. “I never want to have more turnovers than I have assists.”

While Diarra did not have all seven of the turnovers in that stretch, he had the majority of them and finished the game with seven total.

The Wildcats were teetering on the edge of disaster, up just six with 7:45 to play when their veterans took over, playing in a way they have yet to in close games this season.

“At the [under-8 minute] timeout I just said ‘Guys we’ve been here, what are we going to do,’” Weber said. “And I said ’We have more points than them, if we stop them, we will win the game,’ and I think we had three or four shutouts in a row.”

After those shutouts, Diarra hit a pair of free throws, then senior forward Xavier Sneed hit a pair of free throws of his own. K-State followed that up with a three pointer from Diarra and then two more free throws from junior guard David Sloan.

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Senior forward Xavier Sneed jumps up for a layup during the men’s basketball game against West Virginia in Bramlage Coliseum on Jan. 18, 2020. The Wildcats secured an upset victory against the Mountaineers, 84-68. (Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

“In prior games, we kind of folded and didn’t finish the game, but we did today and we got a win,” Diarra said.

The Wildcats’ quick 9-0 run put the game back out of reach. The Wildcat lead continued to build until it hit 20 points again on a fast break dunk by Sneed.

“We’re up. [Sneed] is on the trailer. Nobody is guarding him, give him the ball and let him get some more points,” Diarra said. “Just feed my guys, he’s been working hard all game.”

Diarra led all scorers with 25 points, Sneed had 16 and Gordon had 15 on the day.

K-State’s schedule does not get any easier — they’ll take on in-state rival Kansas in Lawrence, on Tuesday night.

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