One night before Halloween, Washburn University almost gave Kansas State a scare.
The final score shows the Wildcats won 66-56. What it doesn’t show is how close the Division II program from Topeka hung with the defending regular-season co-champions of the Big 12 for 30 minutes of the 40-minute affair at Bramlage Coliseum Wednesday.
“They just played harder than we did, and you’ve got to give them credit,” K-State head coach Bruce Weber said afterward. “They just had more energy.”
A foul on a Cartier Diarra 3-point basket in the second half was the turning point the hosts needed. Though he missed the ensuing free throw, K-State had its largest lead, 46-39, with 11:01 to go. The Ichabods never drew within five points the rest of the way.
Though the Wildcats finally found some breathing room toward the end, stretching their lead to as many as 15 (64-49) with 3:38 to go, the Ichabods played until the final whistle, scoring seven of the game’s final nine points.
“We’d get two or three shutouts in a row, but we would never capitalize on the other end,” Weber said. “We would take a quick shot, we would turn it over and then it just kept taking the wind out of our sails. But it was us that did it (to ourselves).”
And as tight as it was for portions of the second half, it was even more tense at the outset — illustrated by K-State’s narrow, 32-30 lead at intermission.
The first half involved nine lead changes and four ties. The Wildcats’ largest advantage was five (with just 28 seconds left in the half before a triple by Keven Biggs cut it to two as the teams ran into the locker room); Washburn’s biggest edge was four points (15-11) at the 9:16 mark.
Part of what helped Washburn keep the game so close was the decided advantage it held behind the 3-point arc. The Ichabods hit 14 triples; the Wildcats only had two. It’s not as if Washburn was all that efficient though, attempting 45 3s to get to that number.
Afterward, Washburn head coach Brent Ballard said it wasn’t necessarily part of his game plan to come within five attempts of 50. On some of those shots, he said, his team “settled. Nor does he expect his team to jack up that many shots from long range one its regular season tips off next week, even if he does believe his team boasts “good shooters” who can space the floor — an asset he plans to take advantage of in 2019-20.
So the staggering number of 3-point attempts, he said, merely was a function of how Wednesday’s game played out, as well as one K-State player in particular.
“We knew we were going to have to take more than normal, just because of their length inside. Makol (Mawien) does a great job of walling up and just protecting that rim,” Ballard said, referring to the Wildcat senior forward. “That’s one of the reasons they’re so hard to score on, and obviously, they’re bigger than us anyways but, no matter what size the guys they’re going against they do a great job of walling up and protecting that rim.”
While Ballard lauded Mawien’s defense, it was his offense that took center stage Wednesday: Mawien poured in a team-high 16 points, going 6 of 11 from the field and 4-for-4 at the free throw line. He also came within one rebound of a double-double, finishing with nine.
“My teammates did a great job getting me the ball,” he said. “I was in the right place to score, so credit them. I got going early and just stayed on it and kept playing strong in the post, and just let the game come to me. It worked out well for me.”
Fellow senior Xavier Sneed was equally impressed by Mawien’s performance. Sneed said he saw Mawien play with a confidence offensively he’s rarely seen.
“Going to score the ball, they were coming to double (team him) and making steals and making some good plays,” said Sneed, who tallied a double-double (10 points and 10 rebounds) in the win, “and I just saw him being aggressive. I hope he can continue to do that throughout the season.”
With the two-game exhibition portion of its schedule over, K-State now turns its attention to the regular season, which begins Tuesday against North Dakota State.
The Wildcats, Weber said, will need to be far better then. No two ways about it: Wednesday was “disappointing” for Weber.
“I got after them pretty hard about enthusiasm and passion, and we just didn’t have it,” Weber said, “but now you learn from it, you move forward and hopefully next time we’re ready to play. because if we aren’t, you’re going to get a loss at home.”
Sneed echoed Weber’s sentiment. The biggest key going forward is “being ready to play at all times and coming prepared.”
Lacking in both areas led to the drama Wednesday produced.
“We had a couple of mishaps in the game that we scouted,” he said, “We knew what we had to do. (We) just didn’t execute.”