Nursing a two-point lead late in overtime Saturday afternoon against UNLV, Xavier Sneed told Kansas State coach Bruce Weber he wanted the ball, but Weber told his senior swingman that he needed a reliable player to inbound the ball.
Sneed acquiesced, tossed the ball to junior guard Mike McGuirl with 15.8 seconds left in the extra period, and McGuirl got fouled and sank both ensuing free throws to help the Wildcats defeat the Rebels, 60-56, at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Neither team shot better than 38 percent from the field in a sloppy rock fight whose total of 135½ was chiseled down to 133 before tip-off. It hit triple figures only because they played an extra five minutes.
“They had a great game plan,” Webe said of UNLV. “They really protected the lane. We hung in there and found a way to win, made plays when they counted. But this was a big game for [the Rebels]. They wanted to have us, to get some attention. They came with great energy and played their butts off.”
UNLV junior guard Amauri Hardy led everyone with a career-best 27 points, and he guided a hounding defense that pestered Kansas State from start to finish. After the Wildcats scored the game’s first four points, the Rebels rattled off the next 14 to lead by 10.
Kansas State (2-0) scraped and scrapped to try to keep its deficit in the single digits, and that effort took a turn when Sneed went down with an injury to his right foot with 45.5 seconds until halftime. Sitting on the bench, he grimaced and wrapped his face with a towel.
UNLV (1-1) led 23-16 at the half, when a team doctor and trainer examined Sneed’s foot. The guy who tested NBA waters after last season but returned to obtain his degree and, hopefully, have a dynamic senior season returned to the game and keyed the victory.
“When it first happened, it hurt,” Sneed said. “The doctor looked at it, and I got it taped up … I got some pills, things like that, and was able to come back. I wanted to be calm and collected, just be the leader I am, helping the team out as much as I can.”
In a two-minute stretch of the second half, he sank a pair of 3-point shots and made all three free throws, after getting fouled on a deep attempt in front of his bench, to cut the Wildcats’ deficit to 33-31. It was 48-48 at the end of regulation.
With 28 seconds left in overtime, Sneed hit a jumper along the left baseline, over UNLV sophomore guard Bryce Hamilton, that gave Kansas State the lead, at 56-54, for good. UNLV turned it over, and then Sneed inbounded the ball to McGuirl to seal it.
“He’s unbelievable,” Murphy said of Sneed. “He fought it off and played a big role for us in the second half. The man being the man. He saw the defense, he saw the mismatch, and he took it. He’s amazing. He loves K-State, and he felt he could come back and do more for this team. Amazing.”
For T.J. Otzelberger, his first loss as Rebels coach was a tough one.
“I’m proud of our guys for how they came out today, fought and competed,” he said. “I thought it was really impressive to hold a Big 12 champion program, one that we have a lot of respect for, to 16 first-half points.
“I felt like the thing that we need to correct is the start to the second half. That has not been great to us. We have to get better there and better executing late. Overall I am happy with the competitive spirit that our guys played with. I was really proud of. If we can bring that effort and energy every night out, we are going to like the outcome of a lot of nights.”