K-State blows big lead, hangs on to beat George Mason 59-58
By DAVE SKRETTA
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) Kansas State might have headed into Big 12 play saddled with an embarrassing home collapse against George Mason had Kamau Stokes not buried a series of 3-pointers down the stretch.
The senior guard didn't care about those shots, though.
He was still ruing a pair of turnovers that put the Wildcats in such a predicament.
"We made it real tough on ourselves," said Stokes, who finished with 20 points in the 59-58 win over the Patriots on Saturday night. "Especially me, the two careless turnovers at the end of the game - I have to take care of the ball. It doesn't matter how many points I score."
Even on a night Stokes joined the 1,000-point club for his career.
Xavier Sneed added 13 points and Barry Brown had 12 for Kansas State (10-2), which finished the first half on a 20-2 run and still led the Patriots by 20 with 12 1/2 minutes to go.
George Mason unleashed a 17-5 run of its own to get within 49-41, only to watch Stokes hit a pair of 3s in response. But the plucky underdogs kept coming and got within 59-58 when Javon Greene converted a second-chance opportunity with 45 seconds left in the game.
"We put ourselves in a bind," Brown said. "It became a nail-biter."
Cartier Diarra's 3-pointer was halfway down before coming out at the other end, giving George Mason a chance to spring the upset. Justin Kier's wild runner with 4 seconds left was no good and Kansas State pulled down the rebound, only for Brown to be called for a double-dribble.
The Patriots got the ball back with 1.2 seconds left, but their inbound pass was intercepted and Kansas State managed to survive for its fourth consecutive win.
"We had a chance to win the game. They're all disappointed," George Mason coach Dave Paulsen said, "but I'm really proud of this group of guys. We were down 20, really struggled in the first half and our guys really showed a collective will."
The Wildcats' defense-fueled winning streak coincides with their loss of star forward Dean Wade. The preseason Big 12 player of the year, and arguably their top scorer, remained in a walking boot on Saturday after hurting his right foot in the Wildcats' win over Georgia State.
Kier led the Patriots with 15 points. Greene finished with 12.
The game was nip-and-tuck through the first few minutes, and Kansas State led just 16-14 with 6 1/2 minutes left in the first half. But when Sneed curled in the first of his 3-pointers, it began what would eventually become a game-turning 20-2 charge into the locker rooms.
Stokes knocked down a 3, then Sneed hit another, before George Mason scored its only basket down the stretch. Levi Stockard III got into the act, providing some solid minutes off the bench, and Sneed and Stokes added a couple more field goals in building a 36-16 lead by halftime.
George Mason mounted its comeback after Greene's three-point play, turning to the same kind of pressure, man-to-man defense that has become Kansas State's hallmark under Bruce Weber.
Stokes hit back-to-back 3s with about six minutes left to provide some relief, and he buried one more with 1:17 left to make it 59-53. But the Patriots kept answering down the stretch, and it wasn't until a turnover on the final inbound play that Kansas State escaped.
"You have to give them credit," Weber said. "The crazy thing, we still had a 10-point lead at that last TV timeout. Make a couple plays, get a couple stops. But they didn't let down."
George Mason beat the Wildcats in their only previous meeting, when Kansas State's Michael Beasley led a bunch of freshmen against the Patriots during an in-season tournament. The Wildcats boast a lineup of veterans these days, just as George Mason does, and they weren't rattled when Paulsen's group made it a game in the second half.
Kansas State has struggled to put away games, a fact that Weber lamented as his team heads into conference play this week. "Turnovers, you don't execute, all those little things, and boom," he said. "You think you're going to break their spirit and we did it. But we gave them a chance."
George Mason opens A-10 play at Saint Joseph's on Thursday night.
Kansas State faces Texas in its Big 12 opener Wednesday night.
More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25
Updated December 29, 2018