By Corbin McGuire
KANSAS CITY, MO. — K-State head coach Bruce Weber called Xavier Sneed his team’s X-factor the day before the junior became it in K-State’s 70-61 win against TCU in the Big 12 Championship quarterfinals on Thursday in the Sprint Center.
Weber reminded Sneed of it at halftime, however. So did senior Barry Brown, Jr. The list went on and on.
“We all got after Xavier. He struggled early and didn’t have great body language,” Weber said. “I got after him a couple of times and the coaches got after him. He responded.”
Sneed responded with 16 second-half points en route to a game-high 19. It matched his season high scoring total and helped K-State advance to the conference semifinals to play Iowa State (21-11) on Friday at 6 p.m., on ESPN.
“Second half, I kicked it in gear,” Sneed said. “Coach lit a fire in me, as well as Barry.”
“Just pick it up,” Sneed said, “and do more for my team.”
Without First Team All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade, Sneed had to do more. He played more of the four, forcing him to guard on the perimeter and battle down low. He finished with seven rebounds, including four on offense, and dished out five assists, four of which were in the second half.
“Everybody stepped up tonight, really,” Sneed said, as K-State (25-7) also got 26 points between Makol Mawien (10), Cartier Diarra (8) and Levi Stockard III (8). “But Coach (Weber) is always talking about being that two to three percent better. You can’t be 99 percent. You have to get to 110 percent.”
Sneed, after starting the game 0-for-4, played pretty close to that percentage in the second half. Truthfully, it started right before halftime. Sneed hit a corner trey with three seconds left in the first half for his first points and to cut his team’s deficit, at one point as big as 12, to two at the break.
“After the slow start, it was good to see one go down,” Sneed said. “Coming in (the locker room), talking to the guys, knowing they were still confident in me, I’m still confident in myself, it was good.”
Sneed carried that confidence throughout the final 20 minutes, especially when his team needed it.
Among his collection of game-changing plays, one that may have gone unnoticed was when he grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed free throw and dished it to Kamau Stokes for a three. Stokes hit it and gave K-State its first lead at 42-39.
About two minutes later, Sneed finished a layup above the rim in transition. He also capped a 54-second possession and a 15-2 run with a trey to go up 51-41.
Sneed was not done, either, which was good because neither was TCU.
The Horned Frogs cut K-State’s lead to three points three different times in the second half.
The second time, Sneed responded by nailing contested three while being fouled. He made the free throw to give his team some needed breathing room.
“It was huge. It was a tough, highly-contested shot,” sophomore Mike McGuirl said of Sneed’s four-point play. “He makes a lot of tough shots like that. He elevates so high, people think they can try to contest, but you’re not going to block him, you’re just going to foul him. That’s what happened.”
When TCU stormed within a possession with 1:28 left, Sneed once again stepped up. With little time on the shot clock, Sneed got the ball a few feet back from the top of key. He buried the long-range trey to put the game away.
“If you go back in history, he’s played really well around this time. Last year, he played well here and in the NCAA Tournament,” Diarra said of Sneed, who’s averaged 14.0 points a game in the postseason going back to the start of last year’s Big 12 Championship. “He knows what time it is. He’s in the zone. We need to keep having him play like that.”
Source: Kansas State Sports