KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The top-seeded Kansas State Wildcats are moving on in the Big 12 Tournament, as they withstood a meek offensive start and a valiant effort from the TCU Horned Frogs to win their quarterfinal matchup 70-61.
The Wildcats had to make up for missing one of their best players, with senior forward Dean Wade not likely to play throughout the tournament. Wade even showed up to the Sprint Center in Kansas City with a walking boot on.
Lacking Wade’s presence proved to make a difference early. After they narrowly held off Oklahoma State on the opening night of the Big 12 tournament, the Horned Frogs held a slim lead going into the break on Thursday. The surprising aspect of this was that TCU seemingly dominated most of the opening period, leading by as many as 12 points with 9:04 on the clock.
“That first 10-12 minutes of the first half we just kind of coasted,” senior guard Barry Brown said. “I tried to express to our guys that it wasn’t going to be that easy.”
Kansas State’s offense was brutal to start, going just 2-of-12 to open the game, but the Wildcats surged before the break thanks to one likely contributor and one much less likely.
Brown led all scorers at halftime with 10 points, making several shots just to keep the Wildcats afloat when against the ropes early. He partnered with sophomore forward Levi Stockard to propel K-State’s scoring, with Stockard tying a season high for a game with eight points in the first half.
“Levi definitely stepped up today,” senior guard Kamau Stokes said. “He gave us a post presence and defensively he did a pretty good job.”
The second half is when the Wildcats were able to turn the tide for good. Stokes had the biggest possession of the game up until that point when he crashed hard to the floor with 14:52 to play. He made one of the subsequent two free throws, and off an offensive rebound buried a three pointer to give K-State its first lead of the contest.
“[That play] broke their spirit a little bit,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said.
K-State would go on a 14-2 run to open the lead up, all the while TCU went through a disastrous drought. The Horned Frogs went through a 1-of-9 shooting stretch and nearly five minutes without a point that they couldn’t overcome.
Junior guard Xavier Sneed was the catalyst for K-State in the second half, scoring 16 of his game-high 19 points after the break. That included a four-point play late in the game that killed any momentum TCU had tried to build after a quick 5-of-5 shooting streak. Overall, Sneed went 6-of-12 from the floor, 4-of-8 from three-point range, had seven rebounds and five assists.
Sneed was one of four Wildcats to finish in double figures. Brown had two points in the second half to finish with 12 on 5-of-16 shooting, while Stokes had 11 and junior forward Makol Mawien had 10. As a team, the Wildcats shot just under 42 percent from the floor.
Second-team all-Big 12 selection Desmond Bane led TCU in scoring with 16 points. The Horned Frogs had a tough time penetrating the Wildcats’ defense consistently, committing 18 turnovers (with nine in each half).
TCU led for just under 25 minutes of game time.
Next up for K-State is a meeting with the Iowa State Cyclones on Friday evening in the first semifinal of the tournament. The Cyclones cruised past the Baylor Bears on Thursday 83-66. The Wildcats split their series with the Cyclones in the regular season, losing the second meeting when they faced at Bramlage Coliseum.
“We’ve kind of got that sick taste in our mouth,” Brown said. “We need to do everything necessary to come home with the victory.”