MANHATTAN — Kamau Stokes saved the day.
Right when it looked like the Kansas State Wildcats were headed for one of their most humbling basketball defeats in recent memory, the senior point guard caught fire and led his team to a come-from-behind victory 55-51 over Southern Mississippi on Wednesday at Bramlage Coliseum.
He led the turnaround by hitting a mid-range jumper with Southern Miss leading 35-19 early in the second half. The basket was met with little enthusiasm at the time, but then he brought the home crowd to life by swishing back-to-back threes. K-State was suddenly back in the game.
And he wasn’t done. Stokes kept his hot streak going by calling for the ball and sinking a deep jumper and then another three. All the while, K-State made life miserable for Southern Miss with some stifling defense. By the time Stokes got involved on offense, the Wildcats were on a 24-2 run and leading 43-37. They never looked back.
Stokes finished with a season-high 18 points, with all but two of them coming in the second half.
K-State basketball fans, at least for the moment, can back away from the panic button.
Instead of losing to its first nonconference opponent at home in five years, K-State improved to 8-2. Southern Miss, coached by familiar face Doc Sadler, fell to 7-4.
That’s the good news from a purple perspective.
The bad: it appears it will be much more difficult than originally expected for Bruce Weber’s team to survive without star forward Dean Wade, who is out three-to-eight weeks with a torn tendon in his right foot. As he hobbled around the court on crutches and watched the game from the bench in sweats, his teammates struggled like never before to find an offensive rhythm.
Sure, they figured things out in the second half. But the first half was ugly. K-State fell behind 31-19 thanks to some unsightly shooting. The Wildcats went 8 for 26 from the field and missed all nine of their three-pointers in the first half.
It made K-State’s 47-46 loss at Tulsa earlier this season feel like a shootout.
This was not quite what happened in last year’s NCAA Tournament when losing Wade galvanized the Wildcats on their way to the Elite Eight.
K-State should have been able to beat this team easily with or without its best player. Southern Miss, though well coached, can’t match the Wildcats in terms of depth or talent. The Golden Eagles also lack size. This was a good opponent for Weber to employ a small, four-guard lineup against, at least on paper.
But it’s hard to win games when your team can’t put the ball through the net. The Wildcats struggled with that until Stokes gave his team some momentum.
Senior guard Barry Brown finished with 15 points, but no one else on the roster could get anything going from an offensive perspective.
The Wildcats will look for better all-around play when they are next in action against Vanderbilt on Saturday at Sprint Center.
SOUTHERN MISS. (7-4) — Harper-Baker 1-8 0-2 2, Holland 0-1 0-0 0, Edwards 7-13 2-2 18, Griffin 5-19 0-0 11, Magee 2-7 2-2 7, Rowe 2-4 0-0 5, Draine 2-6 0-0 6, Watson 1-5 0-0 2. Totals 20-63 4-6 51.
KANSAS ST. (8-2) — Sneed 2-5 4-5 8, Mawien 2-3 0-0 4, Stokes 6-8 2-4 18, Diarra 1-3 2-6 4, Brown 6-16 3-5 15, Stockard 1-2 0-0 2, Trice 0-1 0-0 0, McGuirl 1-4 0-0 2, Neal-Williams 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 20-44 11-20 55.
3-Point Goals — Southern Miss. 7-33 (Draine 2-6, Edwards 2-6, Rowe 1-2, Magee 1-6, Griffin 1-7, Holland 0-1, Harper-Baker 0-1, Watson 0-4), Kansas St. 4-16 (Stokes 4-6, Diarra 0-1, McGuirl 0-3, Sneed 0-3, Brown 0-3). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Southern Miss. 33 (Magee 8), Kansas St. 38 (Sneed 14). Assists — Southern Miss. 15 (Griffin 6), Kansas St. 11 (McGuirl, Diarra 3). Total Fouls — Southern Miss. 17, Kansas St. 11. A — 8,815 (12,528).