Xavier Sneed soared in for an uncontested, emphatic slam dunk. Barely 20 seconds later, Cartier Diarra poked the ball away for a steal and glided in for a forceful dunk of his own.
Up 54-27 early in the second half, Kansas State was cruising.
Limping into Monday on a two-game losing skid, a worry-free victory was exactly what the doctor ordered, as K-State romped to a 76-58 win over Florida A&M at Bramlage Coliseum.
“It was a good, good game to have for our guys, because they were sick,” K-State head coach Bruce Weber said. “They had their hearts set on going to Florida and trying to win a tournament.”
Instead, the team came back saddled with consecutive setbacks to Pittsburgh and Bradley, respectively. Even after Monday’s win, those losses still were fresh on Weber’s mind.
“We had every chance against Pittsburgh. We don’t know what would have happened against Northwestern,” he said. “We didn’t do it. I thought I did a good job against Bradley, not overdoing the Pittsburgh loss. Obviously, I didn’t get their attention. It was our worst defensive night of the year. They were embarrassed.”
The Wildcats (5-2) put together a game to be proud of Monday against a team, on paper, they should dominate. The Rattlers carried an 0-5 record with them into Monday; only one of their five losses came by single digits. They proved similarly toothless against the Wildcats. Thus, the game unfolded the way one would have expected.
After Florida A&M’s Evins Desir scored the first two points of the night — a shot in the paint over K-State’s Makol Mawien — the hosts responded with a 3-pointer courtesy of Sneed. From there, the Wildcats never looked back, leading for the remaining 37 and a half minutes of game time.
K-State ended the opening 20 minutes with a 39-20 lead, the most points it has scored in a first half this season. The Wildcats came out of the locker room and put 37 points on the board in the second half, outpacing the Rattlers’ 33.
“I think we made some progress offensively. I hope our defense hasn’t slipped with that,” Weber said. “But just being a little more patient (on offense). I brought it up to our coaches: We haven’t had a shot-clock play all year, and we’re shooting 40% and 28% as a team from 3 or whatever it is. We’ve got to be a little more patient, a little more disciplined.”
So lopsided was Monday’s matchup that even Florida A&M’s (0-6) last salvo of the contest barely made a dent in K-State’s lead. Trailing 65-43, and not having made a shot from the field in four minutes, the Rattlers reeled off six points in 51 seconds: a layup by M.J. Randolph, a jumper by Kamron Reaves (off a Diarra turnover on the inbound pass) and another layup from Randolph (off another inbound turnover, this one by freshman guard DaJuan Gordon).
That quick spurt still meant the Rattlers trailed 65-49 with 5:43 to play. Diarra then redeemed himself with a layup of his own, followed by a triple from Mike McGuirl, part of his season-high 16 points. That left him two short of Sneed and Desir (18 points apiece) for top scorer honors Monday.
“I felt good,” McGuirl said. “Just going into the game with a focus on executing, moving the ball and we did that today. I was just the recipient of some open shots, so that went well. But overall, we just executed and really played well on offense.”
Desir, who went 9-for-16 from the field, also grabbed a game-best eight rebounds in addition to his career-high point total. Randolph (10 points) was the only other Rattler to record a double-digit scoring effort for the visitors.
Diarra (11 points) joined Sneed and McGuirl in double figures for the Wildcats. A junior guard, Diarra once again stuffed the stat sheet, posting game highs in both assists (seven) and steals (five). Diarra continued his torrid start with assists, having led the Wildcats in that category in all seven games this season.
“He just has to make all the right decisions,” Weber said. “That’s going to be key. If we shoot 50-some percent, he’s going to get more and more assists.”
Monday exemplified the type of performance Weber had hoped to see in the third-place game against Bradley.
With a tournament title at the Fort Myers Tip-Off out of reach, Weber said he showed his players video after video of broadcasters discussing how important the second, non-championship game of a four-team event can be. That’s because, Weber said, how a team plays when there’s only pride on the line shows “character” and “toughness.” In the end, Weber said he failed them: “I just didn’t do enough to get them over the hump,” he said.
It’s an example of adversity, Weber said. Every team in the country will experience it, to varying degrees, at some point this season.
Now, the Wildcats have to wrestle with one question: How do they deal with it?
“That’s part us as a staff, part leadership and part them,” Weber said. “What is it about? Toughness. Do you have toughness? Do you have effort? Do you have a great attitude? And then what’s your motive? Why are you here? Are you trying to help K-State have a successful season? If you add those all up, you have a good team.”