NEWARK, N.J. — The Kansas State Wildcats played well enough to win their first basketball game of the season against a power-conference opponent on Saturday … until crunch time arrived.
Then they made costly errors that led to easy and decisive points for the Mississippi State Bulldogs in a 67-61 loss at the Never Forget Tribute Classic inside Prudential Center.
It goes down as another bitter result for K-State, which led by 12 points in the first half and seven points in the second half before unraveling late.
Things began to slip away from the Wildcats when Mississippi State guard Iverson Molinar threw down a ferocious dunk against K-State forward Levi Stockard that pulled the Bulldogs within 55-53 at the 6:08 mark of the second half. The highlight play energized MSU and it took advantage of the momentum with a 13-4 run.
Another big moment occurred when Cartier Diarra lost a turnover with his team trying to add to a 58-57 lead with 3:36 remaining. MSU guard D.J. Stewart stole the ball and converted a fastbreak layup.
Stockard missed a contested shot in the paint on K-State’s next possession and Mississippi State really began to seize control when Abdul Ado nailed a pull-up jumper on the other end.
The Wildcats went nearly two full minutes without scoring in crunch time and had all kinds of trouble finding the bottom of the net after taking a 49-43 lead on a David Sloan layup with 9:56 remaining. They didn’t make another field goal until Mike McGuirl hit a layup with 50 seconds left in the game, with the Wildcats making 10 free throws in between.
The loss spoiled a 20-point game from Diarra and a 14-point effort from Mike McGuirl.
Tyson Carter led Mississippi State with 14 points.
We saw the best and worst of Kansas State in the first half.
The Wildcats began the game sluggish and cold on offense as Makol Mawien lost two turnovers in the opening minute and the Bulldogs raced to a 7-2 lead. But then they settled down and looked like the superior team, especially when it came time to shoot.
Behind a perfect first half from Mike McGuirl (11 points on three three-pointers and two free throws) and a confident Cartier Diarra, K-State surged ahead 27-15 and MSU coach Ben Howland needed to call a timeout to make some adjustments.
K-State players celebrated at midcourt as they surged ahead by 12 points with Xavier Sneed enthusiastically clapping his hands and McGuirl nodding his head as a large group of family members looked on.
The hot shooting K-State displayed during a recent blowout victory over Alabama State made the trip along with the team.
It seemed like the Wildcats were on their way to a much-needed victory against a name opponent. But K-State grew stagnant and only scored five points the remainder of the half, while Mississippi State took advantage of some lineup changes from the Wildcats, such as McGuirl heading to the bench with two fouls. The Bulldogs controlled things over the next few minutes and the score was tied 32-32 at halftime.
The half played out eerily like K-State’s first loss of the season, which also came on a neutral floor against a power-conference opponent. The Wildcats led by double-digits early in that game but coughed up most of the lead by halftime and then lost in the final moments.
Things didn’t change in this game.
K-State will try to bounce back when it is next in action on Dec. 21 against Saint Louis at Sprint Center.