Upbeat chatter filled the Kansas State post game locker room -- not excited, but certainly not subdued -- and it gave off a comfortable vibe.
Minutes after the Wildcats dropped a 91-85 decision to Iowa State and fell to 20-12, players discussed and relatively easily dismissed how the team played at Iowa State's pace even though it shouldn't have happened. They couldn't help but smile and focus on the 85 points the Wildcats scored against the Cyclones because this team has struggled to put up points at times.
The smiles were as genuine as they were irrational.
K-State shot better than 54 percent for the game... and lost. It shot just under 74 percent from the free throw line... and lost. It gave up 15 offensive rebounds. It also shot .471 (8-of-17) from 3-point range... and lost.
But hey ... smiles, except from the head coach.
"I'm not sure we guarded as well -- I know we didn't guard as well as we needed to," K-State head coach Bruce Weber said. "I asked the guys to just compete and play.
"And, you know, shot 54 percent, scored 85 points, and you still can't win."
The Wildcats have now lost three games in a row for the first time this season and have dropped five of eight since Feb. 15. The defense, which is what the players all say the team is built around, has held just one opponent to fewer than 73 points in the past six games, surrendering at least 80 twice and then 91 to the Cyclones on Thursday.
So, why such the relaxed vibe among the players, when this isn't a team that feels like it is trending in the right direction.
On Thursday, players' words weren't tinged with any sort of urgency or desperation, no sense of pressure to increase their efficiency or to eliminate mistakes before next week.
"We pretty much got to put it behind us and learn from it ... stay together as a team and know that this season is not over," said senior Shane Southwell, whose ill-advised drive at the end of the game -- "I totally had tunnel vision, I'm not going to lie to you," he said -- resulted in a crushing turnover. "We still have a lot of games left , and we have a lot of fight left.
"We've gotta go out there, keep the mindset* for the next couple of days until we see where we're going, what type of seed we're at, and who we're playing."
*Of the guys I talked with, only junior Nino Wiliams truly seemed perturbed following Thursday's defeat. His attitude was by far the closest to what one would expect after such a game as what took place. I would like to say it's funny how any upperclassman facing the quickly-approaching end to a career has no problem finding motivation to end well, but the same can't be said for all guys. Some just never figure it out.
What I didn't hear on Thursday was any sense that losing is not okay. That letting a game slip away because of mistakes is not okay. That getting taken out of your game is not okay. I got the feeling from the locker room that, ya know, whatevs, these things happen, whether it's once, three times or 12.
"I felt we put [the loss] behind us right away," junior Thomas Gipson said. "I feel like we'll be fine. It's just a tough loss. We can deal with it, though."
Weber just hopes his guys keep working.
"I hope this is a motivator, to lose some games down the stretch," said Weber, "but also a motivator to know that we can play with anybody in the country because we've done it."
There's a subtle difference in a message that says "we can play with anybody" as opposed to "beat anybody."
Texas Tech played with a lot of teams, including K-State. Does that make Tubby Smith feel any better about having a losing season for the first time in his 23-year career?
Doubtful, just like it's becoming more doubtful by the day that this K-State team gets it.
All in all, that's what the 2013-14 season narrative has been for these Wildcats: Nothing seems to stick for very long. Time will tell how much effect an NCAA Tournament loss, especially a second-round (but really, it's the first round) exit for the second year in a row, might have in driving home the fact that sure, there's always next year, but it's whether you improve that counts.
And that you only get a certain number of opportunities.
RAW POST GAME AUDIO FROM THE LOCKER ROOM