WACO, Texas — After getting outplayed for much of the game, the Kansas State basketball team flexed its muscles in crunch time against Baylor and pulled away for a 70-63 victory on Saturday at Ferrell Center.
It was easily one of the Wildcats' hardest-fought wins of the season.
What seemed like an easy opportunity for the Kansas State Wildcats to pull ahead in the Big 12 basketball race turned out to be anything but simple against the short-handed Bears. Missing starting guards King McClure and Makai Mason did little to hinder Baylor, as the active players on the roster pulled together without them and led by seven midway through second half.
But K-State prevailed in the end with a mixture of timely shots, toughness and an incredible assist from Cartier Diarra.
The Wildcats (18-5, 8-2 Big 12) fought back from a 48-41 hole to take a 54-53 lead with 6:11 remaining when Diarra drained a deep three-pointer. And they never looked back.
Kamau Stokes added to the lead with another three-pointer, Dean Wade hit a pair of free throws and Barry Brown mad a three of his own to make it 62-53.
As Baylor tried to fight back, Diarra crushed the Bears' comeback hopes with an amazing full-court pass to Brown for a transition dunk. On the play, Diarra jumped out of bounds to save a loose ball behind the Baylor baseline and somehow flipped it up court and found Brown in stride for an uncontested score.
He came through with K-State's best assist of the season a game after delivering the team's dunk of the year Tuesday against Kansas.
Stokes closed out the game by making a string of free throws on his way to 20 points.
The Wildcats benefited from balanced scoring in this one. Four K-State players reached double digits. Brown had 13 points, Wade added 12 and Diarra finished with 10.
The victory puts K-State in even better position to win a conference championship. With Iowa State surprisingly dropping a home game to TCU, it felt like the Wildcats won twice on Saturday.
K-State players exited the court telling each other they "clawed out" a victory.
Indeed. The Bears looked anything but short-handed, especially in the first half.
Baylor pulled ahead early 17-12 and remained in front for most of the opening half. The Bears forced the Wildcats into turnovers and made 48.1 percent of their shots, with Freddie Gillespie leading the way.
The Baylor forward connected on five of six shots before halftime to top all scorers with 10 points.
It seemed like the Bears were destined to head into the locker room with momentum when Mark Vital went coast-to-coast for a transition dunk after blocking a shot from K-State forward Makol Mawien. His slam gave Baylor a 29-25 lead with two minutes remaining, and Bruce Weber called for a timeout to compose his team.
But that became a turning point for K-State, which closed out the half with six straight points for a 31-29 halftime lead. The points came on a challenged floater from Kamau Stokes, and a pair of physical layups from Makol Mawien.
Baylor appeared to outplay K-State in the first half, but the Wildcats were in the lead.
The second half played out in similar fashion, but K-State was on top when it was over.