Vahe Gregorian

"Grossed out:" Barry Brown's eye injury stifles K-State but bigger opportunity awaits

“Sometimes life isn’t always fair,” K-State loses to KU without Wade, Brown

K-State was without Dean Wade and then point guard Barry Brown was poked in the eye early the game against KU. Without them, the Wildcats lost in a Big 12 Tournament semifinal game on March 9, 2018 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
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K-State was without Dean Wade and then point guard Barry Brown was poked in the eye early the game against KU. Without them, the Wildcats lost in a Big 12 Tournament semifinal game on March 9, 2018 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

One day, Kansas State will beat Kansas in a postseason tournament game again.

Nothing lasts forever, after all, even if it seems like an eternity already since it last happened … 25 years and 13 chances ago after KU’s 83-67 win in a Big 12 Tournament semifinal on Friday night at the Sprint Center.

Only a day before, this one had looked like a fertile opportunity for the Wildcats against the top-seeded Jayhawks, who theoretically were going to be vulnerable without injured center Udoka Azubuike.

That advantage was promptly neutralized by All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade’s foot injury, though, announced Friday.

Then, wham, it’s less than 2 minutes into the game and down goes All-Big 12 guard Barry Brown after being inadvertently poked in the eye by KU’s Devonté Graham.

After all the adjustments to compensate for the loss of Wade, this?

“You can’t plan for Barry going down (that early),” K-State coach Bruce Weber said, adding, “He kept saying, ‘I’m good,’ and I held up ‘how many fingers?’ and he didn’t know. So there was no way we could put him in.”

Advantage … Kansas, the better team to begin with and certainly all the more so with Brown out for the game with the unspecified but nasty eye injury that included bleeding.

“When we shook hands, I just told him ‘my bad,’ ” said Graham, who understood the impact losing Wade and Brown had on K-State and figured Kansas played erratically enough that it would have lost if they’d played. “If I went down, I feel like my team would feel the same way. … It definitely kind of took the air out of them.”

Not just by Brown’s absence but by the shock of the moment.

“They said ‘keep your composure, but …,” said teammate Amaad Wainright, his voice trailing off before adding, “I wanted to run onto the court and help him up.”

Wildcats guard Cartier Diarra said his team fought hard playing in the Big 12 Tournament semifinal against Kansas on March 9, 2018, without top two scorers Dean Wade and Barry Brown. K-State lost to Kansas 83-67.

Brown rolled and writhed and could be heard screaming from press row, and Weber flinched when he got to his side and looked down.

“I was grossed out,” said Weber, who referred to Brown’s eye as “damaged” but added that he expects him to return along with Wade for the NCAA Tournament.

If this had been an NCAA tourney game, in fact, Wade likely would have played.

But a day after he played 41 minutes in an overtime win over Texas Christian didn’t seem like the time to push this.

“It goes sour, and now we don’t have him next week,” Weber said. “And we didn’t feel it was worth the chance to do that.”

And here’s the thing:

As much as we fixate locally on the meaning of basketball between these teams, and particularly on KU’s dominance, this is all about next week — both in Wade not playing and in what the K-State takeaway from this game should be.

The Wildcats slumped after Brown left and were down 16 early in the second half, and it would have been easy for this to get out of hand.

Instead, they rallied to cut the lead to two before fading for good and got something out of this.

Best of all, they saw in a new way what 6-foot-9 forward Makol Mawien can do, as he unleashed a career-high 29 points with a variety of dynamic moves inside.

“He was by far the best player in the game,” said KU coach Bill Self, even if he offset the point some when he suggested “there was no resistance at all” inside with Azubuike out.

That kind of explosiveness could make K-State a more formidable NCAA draw if Wade and Brown indeed are back, and the Wildcats also had to be encouraged by some solid performances off the bench and the testament to character that their rally was.

It was no substitute for a win, obviously, especially in this long-running postseason drought against the Jayhawks.

But this one won’t hurt as much if the Wildcats do some damage in NCAA play, knowing that they learned something about their grit with their two best players out.

“I hope it gives those guys a little more confidence,” Weber said.

Which will go a lot longer way if Wade and Brown are back.

If they’re healthy, Self said, “they’ll give anybody problems in the NCAA” Tournament.

Presumably meaning anybody but Kansas — even if one of these days that will change.