The Kansas State Wildcats defeated the North Dakota State Bison 67-54 in their first basketball game of the season on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum.
Here are some thoughts from the contest before K-State returns to action on Saturday at UNLV:
Strong start for Cartier Diarra
It was far from a perfect game for K-State guard Cartier Diarra, but it’s hard to complain about the way he played in this one.
Diarra began his junior season with 23 points, six assists, six rebounds and one turnover. If he delivers anything close to that stat line on a consistent basis this year, the Wildcats will take their chances against most competition.
“Just an explosive athlete,” North Dakota State coach David Richman said. “His mentality, you could see when he got it going he was just really, really aggressive, didn’t settle, got downhill but then he also hit a couple of those big step backs. He’s just got another gear.”
K-State basketball coach Bruce Weber has challenged Diarra to step up as a consistent scorer and leader this season. He did both against North Dakota State.
The Bison led early until Diarra attacked the basket off the dribble and got involved on defense. Diarra had an impressive sequence of plays late in the first half in which he blocked a shot at one end of the court and hit a contested layup on the other to pull K-State within a point. He kept up his strong play in the second half and the Wildcats eventually pulled away.
Diarra led them to 46 points in the second half.
“Since I’ve been playing here at K-State, I’ve been a winner,” Diarra said. “First year, Elite Eight. Second year, Big 12 championship. And I plan on continuing to win. That’s what I want my legacy to be here.”
Still, he could have been better.
Though he scored a game-high 23 points, it’s worth pointing out took a game-high 21 shots, making just eight. Weber said he would much rather see Diarra limit himself to fewer shots in future games.
“He can score,” Weber said, “but I don’t need 21 shots. If he gets 20 some points on 16 shots I think that is probably better.”
Big minutes for freshman big man
Montavious Murphy was one of the most surprising players in Tuesday’s game. The freshman forward unexpectedly started alongside senior Makol Mawien and played a team-high 33 minutes.
Weber favored junior forward Levi Stockard in K-State’s exhibition games, but went with Murphy because of his athleticism and scoring ability against North Dakota State.
That strategy seemed to pay off. Murphy only had two points and six rebounds in his college debut, but he didn’t make many mistakes and was active on both sides of the court. Perhaps that is why K-State outscored North Dakota State by 15 points when he was on the floor.
“It was a great moment,” Murphy said. “I just told myself I was going to come out here and play hard. I just wanted to make sure I played hard and I feel like I did that and we came out with the win.”
Three is more than two?
These Wildcats will probably die at the three-point line more than they live at the three-point line this season.
K-State shot a woeful 28.6% (6 of 21) from behind the arc against North Dakota State and made just one outside shot on 12 attempts in the first half.
Taking that many perimeter shots was a bad strategy. The Wildcats have players who can hit shots from three-point range, like Xavier Sneed, Mike McGuirl, DaJuan Gordon and Diarra, but that’s not their forte.
This group is better going to the basket and creating off the dribble. Diarra and Sneed are excellent slashers. Mawien and Stockard can finish in the paint.
“We talked about dominating twos,” Weber said. “If you look at it, we were 20 of 40 from two. At halftime, we were up a lot with points in the paint. We thought that had to be a difference for us.”
The Wildcats emphasized that part of their offense more in the second half, and they increased their scoring output from 21 to 46. They would be wise to do that more in future games.