For one stretch of Monday night’s game against top-ranked Baylor, Kansas State couldn’t miss. Six possessions, six made field goals. When the stellar shooting started, at the 15:18 mark of the second half, the Wildcats trailed by eight, 36-28. When they finally missed again ... they trailed by 10.
No matter what K-State did, Baylor always had an answer.
That ability to take an opponent’s best punch and remain standing is part of the reason why the Bears are the No. 1 team in the country. And it’s why they won their 19th consecutive game — extending a program record — in a 73-67 triumph at Bramlage Coliseum.
“I think we’ve got some guys who are mentally tough,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “When you play on the road in the Big 12, if you’re not mentally tough, you’ve got no chance. We’ve got some guys who are mentally tough, physically tough. It doesn’t guarantee you’re going to win, but it gives you a chance. Credit the players for persevering. The louder the crowd gets, the better we play.”
Kansas State senior Xavier Sneed, who scored a game-high 23 points, said he would be lying if he said Baylor’s resolve didn’t bother him.
“Of course it’s tough when you see it go down for them,” said Sneed, who passed K-State great Mitch Richmond for 12th on the program’s all-time scoring list Monday. “But it was always that ‘next-play mentality’ for us. We knew every possession was going to be a war. I even told the team before the game, ‘There’s going to be a point where either we’re up five or down five, and we’ve just got to sustain.’ ... But we just didn’t get it done today.”
It was yet another close loss for the Wildcats (9-13, 2-7 Big 12), who entered having won consecutive games at Bramlage.
K-State got off to one of its patented slow starts, quickly falling behind 8-0 and leading head coach Bruce Weber to call a timeout less than three minutes into the game. Initially, whatever Weber told the team in the huddle didn’t stick; in the next four minutes, Baylor outscored the hosts 4-2 to extend their lead to 12-2.
It didn’t get any better in the next two minutes, with the Bears extending their lead to as many as 16, 22-6, at the 11:59 mark of the half.
But then the Wildcats came alive, going on an 11-0 run — with an unlikely source leading the charge. Senior forward Makol Mawien, who averages 7.2 points per game, scored eight of the 11 points in a four-minute span, helping K-State draw within 22-17 with 7:30 left in the half.
The Wildcats might have trimmed the deficit even further if it had boxed out on defense. The hosts’ 11-0 spurt ended because it allowed Baylor to grab two offensive rebounds on the same possession. The third time was the charm on the possession, with Devonte Bandoo connecting on a triple. The Bears followed that up with four more points in a minute and a half to balloon their lead to 29-17.
“Those are the plays that make a difference, especially against a good team,” Weber said. “It’s disappointing, but to their credit, that’s what they do. They take advantage when you make a mistake. They make the hustle play. It’s tough, because we had such a good stretch. We defended them well on those possessions.”
But K-State finished the half with an offensive flurry.
Cartier Diarra nailed a 3. Montavious Murphy followed with one of his own. Then Sneed got in on the fun, knocking a triple down from the corner, holding his pose as it swished through and slapping the floor.
Sneed also scored the final points of the half in an emphatic way: a pump fake fooled his defender, allowing the senior wing an unimpeded path to the basket, where he finished with a thunderous tomahawk dunk.
A layup rolled in for Baylor as the first-half buzzer sounded, but K-State went into the locker room down just 33-28.
Those were two points, Weber said, which could have been avoided.
“Xavier makes the great dunk, great play. Shot fake, drives it,” Weber said. “But we’re celebrating, so instead of getting back and finishing the half, to their credit, they made the play.”
Aside from Sneed three other Wildcats finished with 10 or more points: Diarra (11), Mawien (10) and Murphy (10).
“I think we’ve made progress. But we’ve just got to get everybody (going),” Weber said. “West Virginia, obviously at home, I thought we had everybody contribute. Today, we probably had four or five guys contribute pretty good consistency. Maybe another couple OK. And then we didn’t have a couple other guys. In other games, it’s somebody else. You don’t have to be perfect, but you’ve got to bring some consistency to it on both ends of the court.”
Which is what Baylor has done, time and again, 19 straight outings.
Weber said he didn’t “think there’s any doubt” the Bears (20-1, 9-0) deserve their No. 1 ranking.
“They’ve (won) 19 in a row, and the one they lost, they led basically the whole game,” Weber said. “Washington (made) a couple plays. I’ve got to give them credit. They’ve sustained it so far to go 9-0 in our league.”
Sneed wasn’t quite as complimentary, stating “no comment” when asked whether Baylor was the best opponent he’s tussled with this season.
Drew, who notched his 11th 20-win campaign in the last 13 seasons with Monday’s victory, took the opposite approach.
The Wildcats, he said, are leaps and bounds better than they were earlier this season.
“Coach Weber does a tremendous job,” Drew said. “His teams always play hard. They never beat themselves. They’re night-and-day (better) compared to where they were in the beginning of the year. That’s a tribute to him and his staff.”