Barry Brown is no longer Kansas State’s leading scorer. Not long ago, that realization shook his confidence and sent the junior guard into a three-game slump that culminated with one of the worst outings of his college career.
On Wednesday, he spun that factoid into a positive for himself and the Wildcats.
Turns out he doesn’t need to lead his team in scoring to help K-State be successful. He can also be a facilitator.
He proved that and then some during a 67-64 victory over Texas at the Erwin Center. K-State coach Bruce Weber moved Brown to point guard late in the game, and the position switch paid major dividends.
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Here is how good Brown was with the ball in his hands and the game on the line: K-State went from trailing 54-50 to leading 66-61 over the span of 5 minutes, 35 seconds. The Wildcats made seven field goals during that stretch, and Brown played a role in six of them (four assists, two driving layups).
Brown (11 points, six assists, six rebounds) was the catalyst for K-State’s comeback.
“I just tried to make the right reads, man,” Brown said, “get downhill a little bit and find the open guy, try to make the right decisions at all times. I am still aggressive for myself, but I know that sometimes they key on me a little bit so I made adjustments and found my teammates.”
The stretch of impressive play began with a length-of-the-court pass to Makol Mawien for a layup. Then Brown made a driving layup and found Cartier Diarra for a three-pointer. After a driving layup from Diarra (the lone basket that didn’t involve Brown), Brown added two more layups of his own and found Mawien for another bucket.
He was unable to close out the game himself when he missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw that followed a string of Texas fouls. But Dean Wade was there to extend the lead and the Wildcats stopped the Longhorns on their last-gasp attempt.
It was important victory that moved K-State (17-7, 6-5 Big 12) above Texas (15-9, 5-6) in the conference standings and boosted its NCAA Tournament hopes.
“We came off some close losses,” Brown said, “and this one put us right back where we need to be.”
This wasn’t a vintage game for Brown. He didn’t come anywhere close to the 38 points he scored against Oklahoma State or the 34 he scored against Baylor, but it was impressive in its own right.
Brown usually plays shooting guard opposite Diarra and Kamau Stokes. But he thrived in a new role on this night.
“He was showing his experience and his leadership, three years being here,” Diarra said. “We put all our faith in him to do what we need him to do, and he made plays. Scoring and sending out assists, we needed that.”
Brown seemed to welcome having the ball in his hands. He had scored just 19 points total in his past three games. But he was a different, more active player against Texas. He busted out his slump at an ideal time.
“I didn’t really put much pressure on myself,” Brown said. “I know what I am capable of and my teammates have my back and told me to stay confident. I was always confident, but I was just in there trying to play my game, not trying to get a ridiculous amount of points, or this or that, just take what the defense gives me.”
Credit Weber for moving Brown to point guard with the game on the line, and helping him realize a new mindset could help him impact games in a new way.
“I have been trying to convince him that some games he will get his 20 or 30 whatever he has been able to get,” Weber said. “Then, other games, you have to get assists, whatever they give you.”
It’s been a wild few weeks for the Wildcats.
First, they won four straight games and moved into second place in the Big 12 standings. Then they lost consecutive games to Kansas (70-56) and West Virginia (89-51) by ugly scores.
Weber said the team felt “lower than a snake’s belly” and said he hasn’t slept in several days.
Where would K-State go from there? With difficult games against Texas and Texas Tech up next, it was hard for anyone to say for sure. But the Wildcats stabilized themselves by beating the Longhorns.
This is the type of victory that could send them to a winning conference record and a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.
So how did they bounce-back from a 38-point loss?
“We just locked into the scouting report,” Diarra said. “I feel like we (weren’t) locked in those last two games and then, of course, we weren’t making any shots. That made it a little worse. Today, we did what we were supposed to do.”
Weber was impressed.
“Fans, they are always are going to be on you,” Weber said, “and you guys (media) are going to be negative. But the kids, they stay focused. And, to their credit, they weren’t happy they lost or anything. But they don’t get on the swings that coaches, fans and media do. I am proud of them. They came together.”
This was the balanced approach the Wildcats have been searching for.
Dean Wade led K-State with 16 points, but he had lots of help. Diarra scored 13 points, Xavier Sneed added 11, Mawien had 10 and Brown did a little bit of everything.
Even seldom-used James Love came off the bench to hit three reverse layups and scored six points.
Weber described those baskets as “the difference in the game.”
When Brown and Wade are hot, the Wildcats can win with other players having down games. But it makes things much easier when everyone contributes. Don’t be surprised if Weber points to this stat sheet as a model in the future.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett