Kansas State almost suffered an embarrassing loss in front of its home fans Wednesday.
Facing a Monmouth team fresh off a 20-point loss at Hofstra on Saturday, the Wildcats headed into the locker room trailing 29-20.
Then in the second half, K-State woke up and remembered it was, well, K-State, the defending regular-season co-champion of the Big 12. And Monmouth was, well, Monmouth, a team coming off a 14-21 season in 2018-19.
The Wildcats scored 14 of the first 15 points after halftime, and they never looked back on their way to a 73-54 win at Bramlage Coliseum.
“Obviously the second half was much better,” K-State head coach Bruce Weber said. “We had talked about being ready. I asked them after. I said, ‘You know if you’re ready. I don’t know.’ I think we came with a good mindset, but it didn’t go easy.”
Things weren’t all that difficult, however, when the Wildcats (3-0) returned from intermission. The hosts more than doubled up Monmouth’s scoring output, putting up 53 points to the visitors’ 25.
To put it in perspective: K-State scored only one less point in the second half than Monmouth (1-3) did for the entire game.
“This team can cause some problems,” Monmouth head coach King Rice said. “We caused it for a little while. They were the better club.”
Weber said there wasn’t any secret formula for the Wildcats’ second-half success. And it wasn’t complicated, either: His team just made shots after halftime that it missed at the outset.
The stats bear it out.
In the first half, the Wildcats made 8 of their 28 (28.6%) of their shots, including 0-for-10 from beyond the new, international-length 3-point line. They also shot just 50% (4-for-8) at the free throw line.
Those numbers rose dramatically in the second half.
K-State nailed a sizzling 64.3% (18 of 28) of its field goal attempts, a total that included all four of their 3-point makes. The Wildcats also connected on 13 of their 16 free throws attempts in the final 20 minutes, good for an 81.3% effort.
“We made the right play, moved the ball,” said Weber, referring solely to the second half. “We had some transition in the first half and we just forced it, turned it over. How many turnovers at halftime? I think it was nine. So we did a little better job taking care of the ball in the second half.”
Yet as dominant as the second half was, it balanced out a forgettable 20 minutes prior to intermission. K-State’s biggest lead was only three points. (Monmouth’s was nine.) And the hosts rarely were in front: The Wildcats were on top for just 1:04, compared to 13:58 for the Hawks, to go along with three ties.
The most noticeable issue for K-State in the opening 20 minutes was its continued struggles from long range in first halves. The Wildcats entered Wednesday having made just 1 of their 22 attempts from long range in their first two games. Then they went out and clanked all 10 of their 3-point shots in Wednesday’s first half.
It’s a problem frustrating Weber to no end.
“Well, we’re 1-for-32, if you didn’t figure it out, in the first half,” Weber said. “That’s not very good.”
K-State’s senior forward duo of Xavier Sneed and Makol Mawien were the key proponents in spurring the team to victory. Sneed scored a team-high 15 points, going 5-for-10 from the field, to go along with six rebounds and five steals. The five swipes matched his personal best; he also had five steals against Texas Tech on Jan. 6, 2018. Mawien, meanwhile, was the only other Wildcat in double figures, finishing with 11 points and just one rebound short of double-double, settling for a team-best nine boards.
It was another player who caught Rice’s eye, though.
“I think No. 2, their point guard is a really good player,” said Rice, referring to Cartier Diarra, who scored eight points and set single-game personal bests in both assists (seven) and steals (four). “I don’t watch them a lot, so I just go off of seeing the little bit before, but he never let them panic. I don’t know if he’s a big-time scorer, but he kept them calm and ran things.
“Just, ‘Hey guys, these guys aren’t beating us tonight,’ and I want to give him some credit, because that’s what a point guard is supposed to do when your team isn’t playing their best: calm everybody down. He really did a great job of that tonight.”
For all the praise Rice had for Diarra, and the Wildcats as a whole, Weber wasn’t all that pleased. Other than notching another victory and remaining undefeated through three games, Weber said there is still much work to be done.
That’s why the coming days are so crucial — particularly since they only have one more game between now and when they travel to Fort Myers, Fla., on Nov. 25. Practice, Weber said, is vital to any potential success that ensues ... even if a former NBA superstar doesn’t share that opinion.
“Practice has to be important. I know (Allen) Iverson doesn’t think it is; Coach Weber does think it is,” Weber said. “It’s got to be important.”