The Kansas State Wildcats defeated the Pennsylvania Quakers 64-48 in the semifinals of the Paradise Jam on Sunday in the Virgin Islands.
Here are some thoughts on the game, before K-State takes on Missouri in the tournament final at 6:30 p.m. Monday:
K-State responded to an early deficit
He had to feel a little uneasy watching Penn race to a 17-10 lead, but there was little for K-State basketball coach Bruce Weber to complain about as the game progressed.
The Wildcats were in complete control after the opening minutes, and led 28-21 at halftime. K-State ended the half on a 13-0 run and never looked back. Just like that, an upset scare turned into a comfortable victory.
“They jumped on us,” Weber told FloHoops afterward. “We told them they were going to compete. We said at halftime we took a lot of quick shots and didn’t take advantage of our inside presence or make them guard us. We were a little better after that one stretch.”
A few things turned the tide.
For starters, senior forward Dean Wade got aggressive. He called for the ball on most possessions and created mismatches by posting up Penn defenders and attacking the rim with his savvy post moves. He finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists. The preseason Big 12 Player of the Year was the focal point of K-State’s offense, and he did a little bit of anything.
Some of his best plays were passes that led to easy points for teammates.
At times, this game felt like the Dean Wade show. He was that involved.
The Wildcats also took advantage of second chance opportunities inside. Makol Mawien, Austin Trice and Xavier Sneed all had put-back layups. Sneed ended the first half with a nifty tip-in.
Kamau Stokes got going, too. The senior point guard finished with a season-high 16 points.
“We have a good team,” Weber said. “They have got to be a team and share the ball and move the ball and keep guarding like we have.”
The result was an encouraging victory. Penn played in the NCAA Tournament last season and is once again one of the best teams in the Ivy League. The Quakers are fundamentally sound and were sure to challenge the Wildcats. Weber talked about this game beforehand like it would be the most challenging test of the tournament.
Penn threw an early punch. K-State fought back. That should help the Wildcats moving forward.
Kamau Stokes made some big shots
You know it’s been a disappointing stretch for K-State’s starting point guard when he hits a three-pointer and the broadcast announcer remarks, “he’s not known for his three-point shooting.”
That happened Sunday night.
Stokes was mostly quiet in the Wildcats’ first three games, but he took a positive step forward by scoring 16 points against Penn. He made two of three shots from three-point range and watched another rattle in and out. He got to the rim and made easy layups. Best of all, he didn’t lose a single turnover.
“I thought Kamau Stokes was better tonight,” Weber said.
Perhaps a game like this will help his confidence the next time he takes the floor. He was one of the best three-point shooters in the Big 12 last season before he suffered a broken foot.
Playing for a trophy
K-State seniors Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade have an opportunity to win the first trophy of their college basketball careers on Monday.
That makes K-State’s game against Missouri in the championship round of the Paradise Jam a biggie for the Wildcats.
“We have talked about winning a championship since way back in April,” Weber said. “These seniors have been in (two) championship games in tournaments and had heartbreakers against Maryland and North Carolina. Now we’ve got another chance. We will see if we make progress and get better. That’s the key.”
A victory over the Tigers probably won’t move the needle much nationally, but it would be a nice accomplishment for a K-State team that has come up short in championship settings in recent years. The Wildcats haven’t won a tournament of any kind since the Diamond Head Classic in 2011, before Weber arrived as coach.