In retrospect, it was probably foolish to think an ugly, narrow win over 13-16 Texas Tech would somehow fix all of Kansas State's road woes.
Somehow, though, I'd almost convinced myself of it when tonight's game tipped off, then the first five minutes were actually enough to make me believe. K-State jumped out to a 13-8 lead thanks to Marcus Foster being Marcus Foster, Nino Williams making some nice plays, and the offense just running very smoothly.
Still, even during that stretch, some of the telltale signs of trouble were there. Thomas Gipson missed an easy shot inside, even though Williams still got the rebound and 2 points at the line. Will Spradling picked up two needless fouls reaching in against a very athletic Oklahoma State team that was more than happy to draw contact all night long.
This brings us to the most curious coaching decision of the night by Bruce Weber. After Spradling's foul Markel Brown hit 2 free throws to cut the lead to 13-10, then Spradling sat out the remaining 15:10, during which time the Cowboys outscored the 'Cats 25-14.
Obviously, Will had to sit for a few minutes, Bruce almost always keeps guys with 2 fouls out until halftime, and it's true that Will fouls more than any other guard in the Big 12. Yet, five minutes or so after KSU's point guard went to the bench, it had become painfully obvious the offense was in big trouble.
Shots weren't falling, movement and passing wasn't as sharp, Marcus Smart started shutting down Marcus Foster, and worst of all, turnovers were leading to easy Oklahoma State points. That really got the Cowboys fired up and even if this team isn't all that deep anymore, they're still probably the second-best team in terms of individual talent in the Big 12.
Eventually, OSU moved in front, and at that point Bruce needed to do anything he could to keep his team from getting into a hole. Of course, it's no guarantee Spradling could have made the difference or even avoided picking up his third foul, but it felt like a baseball manager leaving his closer on the bench in a key situation in the 6th or 7th inning only to lose and never get the chance to use the closer at all.
It's really, really hard to come back on the road, and K-State never got all that close in the second half. This one wasn't quite as bad as the 77-61 score would indicate, but it felt like OSU was in control the entire time after taking a 35-27 lead into the half.
Spradling even came out and hit a couple of tough shots in the second half, even as Foster's struggles continued. Thomas Gipson (10 points/10 rebounds) and Wesley Iwundu (10/10) both posted double-doubles, but sadly they also led the 'Cats in scoring.
The most encouraging thing to take from this game is I can't find much fault in K-State's effort, considering the 'Cats outrebounded OSU 41-31 and had 21 offensive rebounds to OSU's 6. For much of the game, Kansas State undoubtedly outhustled Oklahoma State in its own gym on Senior Night, something this team hasn't done in a lot of road games this year.
Unfortunately, offensive rebounds don't count for points. Layups do, and KSU missed far too many of those. Most of Phil Forte's offense is shooting the 3, and somehow he got far too open far too often to hit 6 on the way to 23 points.
At the other end, Foster just tried a little too hard to create against a tough defensive matchup. It might have been because his teammates didn't offer a lot of help and made a lot of mistakes as well that led to 14 turnovers and far too many easy baskets for OSU.
The final straw came when Iwundu and Shane Southwell missed 3 of 4 free throws so that with 4 minutes left and Smart on the bench with 4 fouls the deficit was an overwhelming 10, instead of a somewhat manageable 7. O-State came down, Forte hit a 3, and that was that.
Winning in Stillwater was never going to be easy, but mistakes and questionable coaching decisions made it flat-out impossible. On the bright side, with a win over Baylor on Saturday, K-State will still finish 11-7 in the Big 12, which is way better than we could have reasonably expected in November or even early January.