The Kansas State Wildcats (4-4) continued their poor performance away from Bramlage, as they dropped what should have been a very winnable game against the Tennessee Volunteers (3-3), 65-64. Let's be clear - this is not a good loss, even though it came on the road. This was a very winnable game, and the kind of contest you have to find a way to win if you're shooting for at-large consideration to the Big Dance in March.
Defensively, we saw some improvement from their recent games, but that increased performance started to wane late in the second half, with the Vols finding easy buckets and open shots as the game hit the home stretch.
However, the offense was discombobulated and showed no poise - or frankly, gameplan - the entire game. Tennessee's backcourt is longer than average, which allows them to trap rather effectively, especially against a relatively undersized backcourt like ours.
A late run by K-State with a couple of made threes combined with Tennessee turnovers and missed free throws made the game closer than it actually was; the Vols held a 7 to 9 point (up to as many as 12 at times) advantage through much of the second half.
Here are the key stats of the game...the first half offensive team stats for Kansas State:
17 points, 5-20 FG (0-8 3P), 13 turnovers, 1 assist.
Had an 11:45 (15:06 to 3:39) stretch between made FGs.
Marcus Foster finished the game with 23 points because of some late-game threes, but by and large, no one really played well enough to positively note offensively. K-State did out-rebound Tennessee, 39-28, including 7 reb by Wesley Iwundu and Thomas Gipson both, and 8 reb for Nino Williams. Jevon Thomas played maybe the best of anyone (I would accept arguments for Nino), and finished with 13 pts, 6 ast (4 turnovers) before fouling out.
Frankly, no one played remarkably well offensively for the Volunteers, either; Josh Richardson did finish with 17 pts on 5-11 from the floor, and Armani Moore filled some boxes in the box score with 6 pts, 5 ast, 5 reb.
No one can win a basketball game shooting 40% from the floor and committing 22 turnovers like we did today.
1. Road Woes Continue
There are many reasons why we're not playing well on the road. I don't think Bruce has these guys prepared to play from the opening tip. I think the general youth of the team is showing up. I think our guys are not as strong as in the past, and not in as good of condition. We don't shoot well, and this team has weak mental fortitude for those times when shots aren't falling. Our guys look like they panic easily. Regardless of the reasons we can come up with, there are differences in the 'intangibles' from last year's squad, that much is certain.
2. Slow Starting
Expanding on the comment above regarding Bruce not having these guys prepared to play at the beginning, the Cats either clearly don't value - or aren't capable of - getting out in front at the beginning of a game. We've seen this against almost all of our opponents:
- Southern Utah jumped out to an 8-4 lead
- UMKC built a 23-13 lead and held the lead for the entire first half
- Long Beach State jumped to a 9-2 advantage and led wire-to-wire
- Omaha started out of the gate 5-0 and held that advantage through most of the first half
Today, it wasn't necessarily Tennessee taking an early lead, as much as it was the missed opportunities and empty possessions to begin the game for K-State. The Cats started 0-6 out of the gate before JT finally made a bucket two-and-a-half minutes into the game.
The two best games we've played - against Purdue and Arizona - were two of our three best starts this season. Clearly, we need to find a way to come out of the gate and start executing immediately if we want to be successful.
3. Defensive Improvement
It still isn't good enough, but the defense was notably improved compared to our seasonal averages. We gave up an eFG% of 45.3%, actual shooting rates of 41.5% from the floor and 25% from behind the arc, and only gave up 8 offensive rebounds against a decent offensive rebounding team. It doesn't show up in the box score, but we did give up 10 points on difficult shots - those kinds of looks that you just shrug your shoulders and move on. Ultimately, this loss can be pinned on committing too many turnovers, and poorly executing on the offensive end of the floor when we could hang onto it.
We know we can play offense, and now we know we can play a little defense. We need to figure out how to do both in the same 40 minutes, or it's going to be a frustrating season.
#EMAW returns to the friendly confines of the Octagon of Doom, to take on a relatively weak Bradley Braves squad on Tuesday, December 9.