The Wildcats finished a tough test with a loss to the top-ranked Baylor Bears on Monday night. Two valiant comebacks fell short, but senior guard Xavier Sneed led all scorers with 23 points, tying his career-high.
The Bears entered the matchup with an 18-game winning-streak paired with an opportunity to maintain a lead over Kansas at the top of the Big 12 Conference. The Baylor defense entered the matchup leading the Big 12 in scoring defense limiting opponents to 54 points per game in conference play.
Kansas State was seeking to defeat a top-ranked opponent for the ninth time, but has clearly struggled this season, sitting at eighth in the conference in points per game, averaging 61 points per game.
It was a near dismal start for the Wildcats who opened the game trailing 12-2 at the first media timeout.
“I told the guys at the timeout, the only way you are going to have a chance is to guard the heck out of “hem,” head coach Bruce Weber said.
The Wildcats kept the game close from that moment on.
K-State got back in the game with a 9-0 run in a charge led by senior forward Makol Mawien, who finished the half with eight points. The Bears responded with a 7-0 run to pull away again midway near the half.
With the Wildcats shooting 29 percent from the floor, the ingredients for a blowout were brewing. Led by Sneed, the Wildcats outscored Baylor 10-4 in the final three minutes of the half.
The Wildcats shot 41 percent from the floor to end the half, but the Bears remained constant in the half, shooting 50 percent from the floor.
Foul trouble affected the comeback efforts with Mawien and redshirt junior guard Cartier Diarra getting three fouls with over 15 minutes to play.
Baylor entered the bonus with 12 minutes remaining in the game. Baylor went 16-29 from the line.
K-State remained in the game and shot 50 percent from the floor in the second half, but simply could not get that crucial stop. The Wildcats made a late push, but it was not enough to upset the Bears who defeated the Wildcats 73-67. The Wildcats were able to score the second-most points against the Bears in conference play.
“We knew that every possession was going to be a war,” Sneed said. “I even told the team before the game that there will be a point where we are either up five or down five, and we just have to sustain, and we were able to keep up our energy and our motion, but we just couldn’t get it done today.”
Baylor finished the game shooting 50 percent from the floor, which is the second-highest an opponent has shot against the Wildcats. Sophomore guard Jared Butler led Baylor scorers with 20 points, which was his fifth 20-plus point game this season.
Turnovers continued to punish the Wildcats as sloppiness cost the Wildcats 16 points off turnovers. Diarra and Mawien both had four in the game. Although most of the turnovers happened early, it was one of the largest factors determining the outcome of the game.
“Just making 16 turnovers, if you are going to beat that team, you probably have to have 11 or 12,” Weber said. “Those extra possessions, they take advantage of them that’s probably the difference in the game.”
Sneed’s career-high tie of 23 points added to his effort to become K-State’s top-scorer, passing Mitch Richmond on the all-time scoring list.
Sneed finished shooting 7-12 from the floor and 5-8 from the line.
“It helps out a lot, seeing the ball go through the hoop, so it just helps me out when I do that,” Sneed said
The Wildcats finished shooting 45 percent from the floor and 79 percent from the free-throw line, which was the best percentage at the line since the Big 12 opener.
The Wildcats are entering the second half of the season, looking to build on all the close games they have played so far.
K-State will travel to Ames, Iowa, for the first matchup of the season against Iowa State. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday on ESPN2.