ATLANTA – Led by sophomore forward Xavier Sneed’s 22 points and a decisive, go-ahead bucket in the final minute from junior guard Barry Brown Jr., Kansas State defeated Kentucky, 61-58 to advance to the Elite Eight for the 12th time and first time since 2010.
The win marks the first time in school history that K-State has defeated Kentucky (1-9), as the team improves to 37-33 all-time in NCAA tournament play. K-State (25-11) advances to the finals of the South Regional, where the Wildcats will take on No. 11 seed Loyola Chicago (32-5) on Saturday at 6:09 p.m. at the Phillips Arena in Atlanta, with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
The game came down to the final minute, knotted at 58 before K-State outscored Kentucky 3-0 in the final seconds, behind a layup from Brown with 19 seconds remaining and a free throw from sophomore guard Amaad Wainright. With five seconds on the clock, Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missed a 3-pointer with time expiring to give K-State the victory.
K-State was led by a strong defensive effort, holding Kentucky to shoot just 38 percent (16-of-42) from the field and 25 percent (3-of-12) from 3-point range, while tallying 11 steals. The defense helped K-State gain a 33-29 lead at half, as the team improved to 20-2 this season while leading at the break.
Offensively, the Wildcats were led by Sneed’s 22 points on 7-of-14 from the field and 5-of-8 from beyond the arc. Paired with Sneed, Brown reached double digits with 13 points on 4-of-15 from the field, including the deciding bucket in the waning seconds. As a team, the Wildcats shot 35.1 percent (19-of-54) from the floor and 40.9 (9-of-22) from long range in the game.
HOW IT HAPPENED
K-State wasted no time grabbing the lead on Thursday, scoring the first seven points of the game behind two 3-pointers from Brown and Sneed. After scoring the first seven, K-State continued to build upon their lead, spouting off a 13-1 run in the first four minutes of play. During the span, K-State shot 4-of-5 from the field and 3-of-4 from long range.
Kentucky would respond with a run of their own, going on a 9-0 run, including a 3-pointer from Quade Green to bring the score to 13-10 with 12:28 left in the half.
Over the next three minutes, Kentucky drew within two points to bring the score to 17-15. K-State earned valuable minutes off the bench, including a tip-in from junior Amaad Wainright and a pair of free throws from freshman Levi Stockard III.
K-State expanded upon their lead minutes later, as Sneed drilled a 3-pointer assisted by Stockard in the post, which gave K-State a 22-15 advantage with 7:59 left. Sneed would go on to lead K-State in scoring in the first half, shooting 3-of-7, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc to lead to his 9 first-half points.
Defensive pressure was a consistency for K-State in the first half, forcing Kentucky into difficult shots throughout the half. K-State held Kentucky to shoot just 26 percent (6-of-23) from the floor in the first half, while creating 6 steals and forcing 7 turnovers in the first half.
Late in the first half, Kentucky switched to the 2-3 zone to try to slow down the K-State offense. On the first offensive possession against the zone, junior guard Kamau Stokes connected on a deep 3-pointer to bring the score to 30-21 with 2:41 left in the half. K-State benefited from beyond the arc in the first half, shooting 6-of-15 in the half.
Just before the half, Kentucky was able to put together a run at the free-throw line, where they were able to bring the score to 30-29 with 55.3 remaining. Kentucky’s Gilgeous-Alexander led the Wildcats with 13 points at the half, including 11-of-12 from the free-throw line. In the first half, K-State committed 16 fouls, resulting in 16-of-23 from the free-throw line for Kentucky in the first half.
On K-State’s final possession of the half, freshman guard Mike McGuirl hit a deep 3-pointer to bring the score to 33-29 at the end of the first half.
K-State shot 10-of-28 from the field in the first half, including 9 points off of Kentucky turnovers. Prior to Thursday’s contest, K-State was 19-2 when leading their opponent at the break, while Kentucky was 6-6 when trailing.
Out of the break, Kentucky was able to even it up behind a 4-0 run, including a pair of free throws to tie the game at 33-33. After trailing the entire first half, Kentucky gained their first lead at 36-35 behind a 3-pointer from Green with 17:21 left in the contest.
K-State would go back to the hot hand from the first half to reclaim their lead, as Sneed put the Wildcats back up at 38-36 with 15:53 remaining, marking his fourth 3-pointer of the night.
Following the Sneed 3-pointer, the Wildcats went back to the deep shot, this time with Diarra, as K-State regained the lead at 41-38. On the ensuing defensive possession, Sneed drew a charge on a drive by Kentucky’s Gilgeous-Alexander that led to a technical foul from the Kentucky bench. K-State capitalized on the opportunity, regaining possession and scoring on the technical foul free-throw before Sneed hit another 3-pointer to bring the score to 45-38 with 14:00 remaining in the game.
After leading the team in scoring in the first half, Sneed continued to take over for K-State, scoring 5 consecutive points for the Wildcats to bring the score to 52-44 with 8:24 remaining.
Late in the second half, K-State fell into foul trouble, as four players reached four fouls with six minutes left on the clock. At the 6:18 mark, Kentucky drew the score to within three points, connecting on two free throws to bring the score to 52-49.
After drawing close, Kentucky would rattle off a 6-0 run with 4:02 remaining in the game to retake the lead at 55-54 on a Gilgeous-Alexander layup.
K-State would strike back to take over the lead again, as Diarra found a crease in the defense and drew an and-one. Diarra would miss on the free throw as K-State possessed a 56-55 advantage with 3:01 remaining.
With 1:32 remaining, Kentucky would connect on and and-one of their own, as Kentucky’s P.J. Washington collected an offensive rebound and drew a foul sophomore forward Makol Mawien. Washington would miss the free throw, in which Kentucky fouled K-State’s Brown. Brown would give K-State the lead back at 58-57 with 1:31 after connecting on both free throws.
Heading into the final minute knotted at 58, K-State got a go-ahead bucket from Brown with only 19 seconds remaining to bring the score to 60-58. After a defensive stop and a foul, Wainright connected on 1-of-2 from the line to bring the score to 61-58.
With five seconds remaining, Gilgeous-Alexander marched down the court before he missed a 3-pointer as time expired, as K-State survived, 61-58.
Led by Sneed’s 22 points, and 5-of-8 from three, K-State shot 35.1 percent (19-of-54) from the floor and 40.9 (9-of-22) from long range in the game, while holding Kentucky to just 38 percent (16-of-42) from the field and 25 percent (3-of-12) from 3-point range.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Xavier Sneed – Sophomore Xavier Sneed neared a career-high with 22 points on 7-of-14 from the field and 5-of-8 from three, to lead the game in scoring. Sneed’s five 3-pointers set the tone for the Wildcats, as the team shot 40.9 (9-of-22) from beyond the arc. Along with his 22 points, Sneed grabbed 9 rebounds and recorded an assist before fouling out in the final minutes.
STAT OF THE GAME
12 – With the win, K-State enters their 12th Elite Eight in program history, as they will face off against No. 11 Seed Loyola-Chicago on Saturday at 6:09 p.m. The appearance is the first time since 2010, when K-State fell to Butler (56-53) in the West Regional Final.