Jan. 10--Cartier Diarra had waited -- quite literally -- years for this.
The redshirt freshman replaced injured point guard Kamau Stokes in the starting lineup Wednesday night in Kansas State's 86-82 win over Oklahoma State. It marked Diarra's first start since February 17, 2016, his final game at West Florence (South Carolina) High School.
After missing last season with a torn ACL, he has come a long way, both on the road and the basketball court.
In his 37 minutes of action, Diarra tallied a career-high 17 points, snagged four rebounds and threaded four assists, taking over point guard duties with Stokes sidelined indefinitely by a foot injury. Diarra converted six of his 12 shots, including a 2-for-3 effort on 3-point attempts.
"No, not really," Diarra said about any feelings of nervousness prior to tipoff.
In the first half, he caught an alley-oop pass from forward Dean Wade and flushed it, his spindly locks flowing as he landed and jogged back on defense.
"It was OK. I didn't jump as high as I (could have)," said Diarra, smiling as he referenced his 44-inch vertical. "Got two points, though."
Then, late in the second half, he took a swing pass on the wing from Amaad Wainright, drove to the basket and finished an and-one, side-stepping Oklahoma State guard Lindy Waters under the rim to do so.
There was also the Euro-step he used to navigate around Cowboy forward Mitchell Solomon -- all 6-foot-9 of him -- and finish a difficult layup, good for a 45-42 lead in the early stages of the second half.
His biggest shot may have been his longest, a triple from the corner that both secured for K-State a 68-60 lead with five minutes to play and re-energized a Bramlage Coliseum crowd that vacillated between raucous and anxious as the game wore on.
All the while, Diarra paired with K-State guard Barry Brown, who posted a career-best 38 points, to make for dynamic backcourt duo. The two combined for more points than the rest of the team.
If Diarra struggled anywhere Wednesday night, it was on defense.
For most of the night, he was tagged to Oklahoma State guard Brandon Averette, who scored 22 points.
At a critical stage, with K-State holding onto a 70-62 lead as the clock ticked under four minutes, Diarra forced Averette into a desperation, fall-away jumper that missed badly.
At the other end, Diarra snared an offensive rebound to preserve a possession that ended when forward Xavier Sneed connected on a fadeaway jumper. Still, Weber thinks his precocious guard can make strides on the defensive end.
"We had trouble with Averette, staying in front of him," Weber said. "I think that's one thing (with) Cartier, (he's a) little bit casual (and) doesn't understand how quick they are."
Diarra himself admitted as much.
"I do sometimes get lost," Diarra said, "and I need to work on being locked-in at all times. I'm working on that moving forward."
Perhaps Diarra had this sterling of an outing coming.
After the Wildcats fell on the road Saturday to Texas Tech, Weber said Diarra spent the night watching film and getting shots up well past midnight, determined to improve even after recording 11 points off the bench.
And he hopes to see the team's play carry over into Saturday's game at arch-rival Kansas.
"I've seen the fire and the grit we played with last year," Diarra said. "Hopefully we come out with a 'W' this time."
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