For two years, Cartier Diarra was a capable role player and more for the Kansas State Wildcats.
When starting point guard Kamau Stokes suffered injuries each of the past two seasons, he was there to fill the void and on occasion carry the Wildcats. But he also had the security of knowing seniors Stokes, Barry Brown and Dean Wade were there for much of the heavy lifting.
That's no longer the case. Those three, who also were K-State's top three scorers, are gone, and Diarra knows it's time for him — along with returning senior starters Xavier Sneed and Makol Mawien — to take ownership of a much younger team.
K-State coach Bruce Weber has said as much.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself. I'd like to also go back and I've spoken to Barry and Kam and Dean, just about that leadership role and I know what I'm capable offensively, so I take responsibility for that," Diarra said Tuesday night after his 23 points and six assists led the Wildcats in a season-opening 67-54 victory over North Dakota State. "I'm a big critic of myself, so I'm not going to say I liked how I played."
Weber, whose Wildcats face their first road test at 3 p.m. Saturday against UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, was encouraged by Diarra's performance. Encouraged, but not entirely satisfied.
"He can score, but I don't need 21 shots," Weber said of Diarra, who was 8 for 21 from the field and 2 of 8 from 3-point range. "If he gets 20-some points, 23, on 16 shots, that's probably better — 15 shots — so a couple of those threes, a couple of times getting to the free-throw line … and he's got to make a little better decision on those plays."
It was two straight driving layups by Diarra that got the Wildcats within a point against North Dakota State at intermission, and he had 15 points to lead the charge in the second period.
"I settled for a lot of jumpers when I could have kept going downhill," Diarra said. "That was working for me a lot.
"Just learn from that (by) watching film. After seeing more of the attacking lanes that I had and more assists I could have gotten to my teammates. At the end they were closing out on me. I'd get by my man and a lot of help came and (I could have thrown) more lobs or kick it out for threes."
Still, Weber was pleased overall with his junior guard, who did not reach double figures in either of the two exhibition games leading in to the opener.
"Somebody said, 'What do you like about Carti?' Six assists, one turnover, and if you look at his exhibition numbers, they were not that," Weber said. "A few less shots and take what the defense gives you.
"He can make some plays. He's a good player."
Diarra, whose best play may have been a lob to Mawien for a second-half dunk, said he's less concerned about numbers than results at this juncture.
"My goal, as long as I've been playing here at K-State, I've been a winner," he said. "In my first year, Elite Eight, second year Big 12 championship, and I plan on continuing to win.
"And that's what I want my legacy to be there."
Weber just wants more of the same.
"He probably thinks I held him back last year," Weber said. "But he'll have his chance this year, he's just got to be efficient."
The Wildcats now face a UNLV team under first-year coach T.J. Otzelberger. The Runnin' Rebels (1-0) won their season, 86-71, over Purdue Fort Wayne on Tuesday.
All five UNLV starters scored in double figures, led by 6-foot-11 forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong and guard Jonah Antonio with 17 points each. Diong also had 17 rebounds.
"(North Dakota State was) a good win for our guys, and now we see if we have the maturity to go on the road," Weber said. "They're a new team, a new coach.
"It's different than this, but for us to go there, they'll play at a high level."
KANSAS STATE AT UNLV
Tipoff: 3 p.m. Saturday, Thomas & Mack Center (17,923), Las Vegas, Nevada.
Records: Kansas State 1-0, UNLV 1-0.
TV/Radio: ESPN+ (internet streaming)/None.
Next: K-State vs. Monmouth, 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan.