If you were wondering whether Kansas State would be a better team away from home this year with more experience, the Wildcats answered with a resounding NO in their road opener, a 69-60 loss at Long Beach State.
They still looked totally different from what appeared to be a talented group in Manhattan, where they averaged more than 90 points per game in two contests against weak opponents. Perhaps the lighting is different, or maybe the players were exhausted by the 9:30 p.m. tipoff, but they turned in a performance and effort we'd all be better of forgetting Friday night.
Bruce Weber's team looked lost on offense from the opening tip at Long Beach State, a confident, experienced squad unafraid to play anyone. But the 49ers aren't that great, and they lost twice to KSU a year ago, including an ugly 52-38 game in Puerto Rico.
Somehow, the ‘Cats found a way to play even worse this time around, failing to make a field goal until after the first media timeout and falling behind 9-2. Poor 3-point shooting on the road (3-of-21) on the road can be forgiven, but the more concerning part of the awful start was Kansas State's inability to get the ball inside and settling far too much for outside shots.
The Wildcats finished the night shooting a miserable 34.5 percent from the field, and even though Thomas Gipson led the way with 13 points, it seemed like he could have played a lot better. Long Beach State's ineptitude, particularly late, nearly gave KSU a chance to sneak out of The Walter Pyramid with a win, but in the end the ‘Cats got what they deserved.
Ideally, the lackluster performance that might still hurt come March will serve as motivation heading into three more games far away from Manhattan in the tiny gym at Chaminade University, where Purdue awaits on Monday. Kansas State went just 3-11 away from Manhattan last year if you exclude games against Gonzaga in Wichita and Tulane in Kansas City, but Weber's plan to get the team some early-season experience backfired in the worst way.
Three reasons K-State lost
1. Marcus Foster, the Wildcats' leading scorer last season and a preseason All-Big 12 selection, shot 1-of-13 from the field while scoring five points. He looked slow and none of his seven 3-pointers ever looked to even have a chance of going down. It was the second-fewest points Foster has scored in his Wildcat career, and here's hoping he takes a long, hard look in the mirror over the weekend to come out with a different mentality out in Hawai'i.
2. Kansas State should have dominated on the glass today against a much smaller team, but instead Long Beach State matched the Wildcats with 40 rebounds. The 49ers had 14 offensive rebounds, which led to 9 second-chance points and helped them keep K-State at arm's length the entire game.
3. The offense simply never got in sync, and that almost always means poor point guard play. Nigel Johnson looked truly terrible in his limited time, and Jevon Thomas offset a couple nice jumpers with some inexplicable decisions and missed layups. Together, they combined for 2 assists and 5 of the team's 15 turnovers.
Three things to watch going forward
1. Kansas State continues to struggle to find scoring without Marcus Foster, just as it did a year ago. The ‘Cats were supposed to have more options this season and at least Gipson is off to a solid start with three straight nights of at least 13 points, but the perimeter scoring could be an issue. It didn't help that Justin Edwards appeared lost and shot a miserable 1-of-10 to finish with two points.
2. The Wildcats must find a way to get off to better starts after digging a deep early hole. Even against a truly awful Southern Utah team, it took Kansas State about 12 minutes to get any kind of a lead. Coming back in the second half isn't always as easy as it was against UMKC, a lesson the ‘Cats earned the hard way Friday night in California.
3. Nino Williams provided somewhat of a bright spot on an otherwise dismal night, showing some increased range while scoring 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting in his first game of the season. Tre Harris also hit 2-of-3 3-pointers off the bench to improve to 6-of-8 for the season. It would be huge if Kansas State could count on the two perimeter players to be reliable shooters off the bench, though it would be nice if they could do a little more defensively or contribute in other ways as well. Then again, maybe we shouldn't ask for too much right now.
Enjoy your weekend free of Kansas State sports except a volleyball match against TCU at Ahearn, and prepare for a feast of Wildcat action next week.