With shot after shot continuing to miss to open the second half, Kansas State needed something — anything — offensively to get going Wednesday. After six straight misses, Shaun Williams provided just that, tipping in a miss by Makol Mawien — but not before Williams’ putback rolled around the rim before finally dropping. On the Wildcats’ next possession, Williams drained a 3.
Minutes later, he followed yet another miss by Mawien — a fast-break opportunity for the 6-foot-9 forward after a steal — for two more points.
But Williams’ second-half spurt wasn’t nearly enough to help K-State avoid its second straight loss, falling to Bradley 73-60 in the third-place game at the Fort Myers Tip-Off tournament in Fort Myers, Fla.
“We just didn’t perform up to what we needed to do,” K-State head coach Bruce Weber said on the Wildcats’ postgame radio show, “and now we’ve got to go back and (work). I challenged them. I said, ‘An alcoholic can’t change unless he admits he’s wrong. Right now, we got our butts kicked. We’ve got to realize we’ve got to change.’ It doesn’t matter if I know; they’ve got to know and they’ve got to believe it. That’s the first step.”
While the Wildcats (4-2) slogged through a sloppy, stagnant second half, Bradley guard Nate Kennell had one of the best games of his career. He hit a pair of 3s to start the second half, extending the Braves’ lead to 44-38 as the Wildcats couldn’t manage a point until Williams’ first tip-in at the 13:51 mark.
Kennell finished with a game-high 22 points, his best outing of the season to this point. He went 7-for-11 from the field, including 6 of 8 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Three other Braves joined Kennell in double figures: Darrell Brown (14 points), Elijah Childs (12) and Ja’Shon Henry (11), as the Missouri Valley Conference club connected on 56.3% (13-for-23) of their shots from behind the arc.
“They came back at a high level and did an unbelievable job,” Weber said of Bradley, which was coming off a lopsided 78-51 loss to Northwestern Monday. “We’ve got to get better. It’s my fault. We’ve got to get better flow, got to get it side to side.”
Xavier Sneed paced the Wildcats, scoring 15 points and grabbing a game-high nine rebounds. Though he went 5-for-5 from the free throw line, Sneed missed all four of his 3-point attempts, part of a 5-of-12 showing from the field overall. And while his final stat line was solid — he also had two assists and two steals — Weber thought Sneed forced the issue at times.
“I told Xavier — he cares so much, he wants to do so well, but it’s almost like (he cares) too much — ‘Let it happen. It’ll come. We’ll go to you. You’ve got to execute and be a little better,’” Weber said.
The improvement Weber seeks isn’t confined only to their play on the court, however. Weber said that extended to attitude, including his own. Him and guard Cartier Diarra both picked up technical fouls in the final minutes of Wednesday’s game, the frustrations of a second consecutive setback following a 4-0 start boiling over.
“I apologized to them. I don’t know how many T’s I’ve gotten, maybe one or two in seven or eight years,” Weber said. “The hands checks (frustrated me). But I’ve got to act right and our kids have got to act right. Carti, that’s not what we do at K-State. I was disappointed in the officiating. I was disappointed about Pittsburgh. But they outplayed us tonight. That has nothing to do with officiating.”
Diarra’s technical came despite what Weber conceded was an “unbelievable” stat line. Diarra tied or set career-highs in both assists (eight) and steals (five) while he also tied a season-high with six rebounds. Those numbers aside, Weber said he didn’t think Diarra played all that well.
“He’s got to be more of a leader. He’s got to be happy with distributing,” Weber said. “We can’t get the ball stuck in his hands. ... Carti’s got to accept that. We’ll come back to him.”
Williams finished with 10, matching fellow guard Mike McGuirl for top honors on the team behind Sneed. McGuirl’s performance in particular pleased Weber.
“I’m happy for him,” Weber said. “He started the year and couldn’t make a shot. He’s become our defensive stopper. Obviously he got in some foul trouble tonight. It means a lot to him. He puts in a lot of time. I’m happy he made some shots. Shaun (also) made a few shots, gave us a little bit of a chance.”
And “a chance” at the NCAA Tournament is all that Weber can ask for at this point. The back-to-back losses, at a tournament in which K-State entered as the best team, on paper, will do nothing to help the team’s resume come Selection Sunday. On the contrary. The defeats likely will be a black mark against the Wildcats.
Yet Weber, drawing on his past, already has his players thinking back to one of his previous squads: the 2013-14 team. That year, K-State lost consecutive games at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, to Charlotte (68-61) and Georgetown (90-63). It bounced back on the final day of the tournament, beating Long Beach State (52-38). That team went on to finish 20-13 overall, including an 11-8 mark in the Big 12.
Most importantly, the Wildcats made it to the NCAA Tournament that year.
“Those guys believed,” Weber said. “They came together. We had great leadership. A lot of good things can happen. We’re nowhere near where we were last year. We’ve got some pieces. We’ve just got to learn to play together.”