MANHATTAN — The seeds of Cartier Diarra’s big showing Wednesday night, Bruce Weber asserted, were planted in the wee hours Sunday morning.
Diarra performed admirably in his first appearance in relief of injured point guard and team leader Kamau Stokes, scoring 11 points in a season-high 30 minutes Saturday at Texas Tech. But the redshirt freshman wasn’t pleased with his in-a-pinch effort, in particular two turnovers in the final 10 minutes of the eventual defeat.
So, as soon as the team’s plane arrived home, Diarra got to work.
“Saturday night we get back and he wants to watch film,” Weber recalled Wednesday. “He comes in the gym and shoots ’til 1:30, 2 ‘o’ clock. He said, ‘Coach, I helped us get back in the game, but I made mistakes down the stretch. I can’t do that.’
“He wants to be successful. If you have that desire to be successful, good things will happen.”
It certainly played out that way Wednesday.
Diarra seamlessly slid into the Wildcats’ starting lineup, scoring 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting in K-State’s 86-82 victory over Oklahoma State at Bramlage Coliseum. He effectively guided the offense for 37 minutes, dishing a team-high four assists on a night in which teammate Barry Brown erupted for a career-high 38 points.
“He played well against Texas Tech, but it was without thinking,” Weber said. “Now you have three days to think about it and he really stepped up and played a really good game, there’s no doubt.”
Diarra’s fingerprints were all over the bounce-back victory for the Wildcats (12-4, 2-2 Big 12).
He had the game’s earliest highlight, converting a lob from Dean Wade into an emphatic dunk. The play was part of an 8-0 run for K-State that Diarra kick-started with four straight. He finished the half with seven points.
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Diarra, who says he’s up to a 44-inch vertical leap despite last year’s season-ending knee injury, didn’t give his first-half dunk a rave review.
“Well, I mean, it was OK. I didn’t jump as high as I was supposed to,” Diarra said. “Got two points though, so that was important. Started off the game good.”
The second half was even better for Diarra, who helped the Wildcats gain separation in the final 10 minutes.
He converted a diving layup through contact and finished off the three-point play with a free throw make to give K-State a 58-52 advantage with 8:33 remaining. Then, with the game locked at 58-all, Diarra assisted a wide-open 3-point make by reserve Brian Patrick that gave the Wildcats the lead for good with 6:45 to play.
Coming out of a timeout, the play was not drawn up as it unfolded, Diarra admitted.
“Nah, it was just, I saw him, he was open, and I was just like, ‘Hey,’ ” Diarra said. “I believe in him.”
Diarra added a corner 3 on an assist from Brown and a key offensive rebound that gave the Wildcats, then up eight, a new shot clock with less than four minutes left.
“I feel like I played a solid game,” Diarra said. “I made a couple mistakes — gotta learn from that — but ultimately we came out with the ‘W.’ ”
If Weber had one critique of Diarra’s evening it would be a lack of intensity at times — “He’s a laid-back kid,” the sixth-year coach said. “He’s a dedicated kid, he gets in the gym a lot, but he’s pretty laid back.”
Diarra agreed with Weber’s evaluation.
“At times (I am),” Diarra said. “I feel like I do sometimes get lost and I need to work on just being locked in at all times. I’m working on that moving forward.”
While his first start probably went as well as K-State could’ve hoped, it will still be a challenge filling the void left by Stokes, who was averaging 13.4 points and 4.6 assists before the significant injury. Sporting a hefty black boot on his left foot, Stokes has in his pre-injury play and post-injury words inspired Diarra.
“He tells me, ‘Don’t play with them.’ Just attack when they’re giving me space, make the right plays, you know? Be a solid point guard,” Diarra said of Stokes’ advice. “I’m the point guard, so I lead the team, make the right plays, get the ball to the right people and do what he would do.”