All the talk surrounding Kansas State’s men’s basketball team since the end of last season centered on three players: Xavier Sneed, Makol Mawien and Cartier Diarra. That trio of upperclassmen was expected to take the baton from the previous trio of Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade — and run with it. In Tuesday’s regular-season opener against North Dakota State, K-State’s new triumvirate went out and did just that.
The three finished as K-State’s top three point-getters Tuesday, combining to score 47 points in a 67-54 victory at Bramlage Coliseum.
Diarra led the way, pouring in a game-high 23, which doubled as a career best and gave him his first 20-point performance as a Wildcat. Mawien was next in line with 15 points to go along with a game-high 10 rebounds, the third double-double of his K-State career, while Sneed finished with nine points.
Despite arguably the best performance of his college career statistically, Diarra wasn’t all that satisfied with himself, owing to his less-than-efficient outing offensively.
“I settled for a lot of jumpers when I could have kept going downhill, and that was working for me a lot,” said Diarra, who went 8-for-21 from the field and also dished out six assists, a personal best. “(I) just need to learn from that and watch film after and see more attacking lanes that I had and more assists that I could have got my teammates at the end. They were closing out on me, and I’d get by my man and they had a lot of help, so we had some lobs and kick out for 3s.”
The showings of Diarra, Mawien and Sneed notwithstanding, K-State head coach Bruce Weber was more focused on the team as a whole.
“We talked about three things: play hard, deflections and defense,” he said. “I thought we controlled that. We won (the play hard chart) 36-22. I thought we were pretty active with deflections and dives on the floor. Those are those little plays that make a big difference.”
The Wildcats (1-0) overcame a forgettable shooting performance in the first game with college basketball’s new 3-point line, which moved back from the former distance of 20 feet, 9 inches, to the international basketball distance of 22 feet, 1¾ inches. K-State made just 6 of its 21 attempts Tuesday, though the final one — a stepback from Diarra with 4:19 remaining, pushing the hosts lead to 62-50 — essentially sealed the victory.
K-State hit 42.6% (26-of-61) of its shots overall, though it upped its play offensive after halftime, hitting 51.6% (16-of-31), including a 55.6% (5-of-9) mark from 3-point range.
“I don’t want to run plays every time,” Weber said. “But sometimes they, until they learn how to just play and move the ball and read different coverages, we might have to. And we’ve gotta find baskets, and great execution.”
The final score isn’t indicative of how close the contest was for large portions of time Tuesday. In fact, the Bison (0-1) — the reigning champions of the Summit League tournament, which earned them an automatic berth to the NCAAs last season — led at the half 22-21.
“They’re a good team,” Weber said. “They’ve done a nice job. I would anticipate they’re an NCAA team. They’re tough for us. As a new team, it was not great scheduling. You don’t want to play old and you don’t want to play experienced. But our guys stuck together. We made some plays.”
On the flip side, North Dakota State head coach David Richman had nothing but praise for K-State.
“I’m a big, big fan of Coach Weber and how he runs his program,” Richman said. “I think it’s a program — just that — not a team. They’ve got some young kids. This is a team that’s really going to grow. You can see that. Cartier, he’s just a tremendous, tremendous talent.”
Though K-State was far from perfect, Weber thought his team made progress. And he said it will have to continue to mature quickly: K-State’s next game is on the road against UNLV on Saturday in Sin City.
“It’s not going to be easy for these guys,” Weber said. “We’re going to learn a lot about our team in the first week.”