For the second day in a row, Wildcat fans saw their teams pull a Jekyll and Hyde act over two halves of a game. Last night on the gridiron, one bad half plus one good half turned into a close game and a near miraculous comeback. On the hardwood this afternoon, one decent half plus one awful half turned into a deflating loss, one that was never close in the final 12 minutes.
The story at the beginning of the game was the starting lineup. For the second game in a row, Bruce Weber benched season-long starters in favor of guys who might show a little more effort. Last game, the benched party was Thomas Gipson, who responded with a team-high 19 points in a losing effort. This game, Gipson returned to the lineup while Jevon Thomas and Marcus Foster were relegated to bench duties.
The immediate returns were decent, as the Wildcats came out of the gate with some fire. Justin Edwards opened the game with a nice drive to the rim, two of his nine first half points. It took K-State all of six minutes to match their scoring total from last game's first half (which says more about last game, really, but still). Other standouts were Gipson (10 points and 3 rebounds at the half) and Malek Harris, who was very active after replacing a foul-plagued Nino Williams early in the half, and probably earned himself some more playing time as a result.
On the other side of the ball, the Cats had a hard time containing Phil Forte and Le'Bryan Nash. The pair put up 19 first-half points (11 for Forte, 8 for Nash) on a combined 8 of 16 shooting performance. Most of their damage came early, however, as the Cowboys only managed two points between the 9:38 and 0:25 marks of the first half. Over that period, Kansas State used a 12-2 run to climb from 17-23 down to a 29-25 lead.
And then, the wheels came off. In what would prove to be a sign of things to come, a K-State miss turned into a defensive rebound for Nash, and a relaxed Wildcat defense (perhaps assuming the Cowboys would hold for a final shot) let the big man go coast-to-coast for an easy lay-in to close first-half scoring. In the second half, OSU turned up the defensive pressure and K-State did not respond well. A squad that only turned the ball over six times in the first half coughed it up seven times in the first 10 minutes of the second half. And even when plays didn't result in turnovers, a sped-up offense took ill-advised, contested shots. Resulting steals or defensive rebounds turned into easy fast breaks for the Cowboys, who took advantage.
By the under-12 media timeout, OSU had built a 37-54 lead, and the game never got closer than 14 points from that point on. The Cats didn't turn the ball over again, but still couldn't find any offense. Meanwhile, OSU found offense from all over. Forte continued his hot shooting (finishing with a game-high 20 points), and after being shut out in the first half, both Jeff Newberry and Anthony Hickey, Jr. reached double-digits by the end of the game.
As for Foster and Thomas, they did not respond as well to their benchings as the senior Gipson had against Georgia. Turnover-plagued Thomas managed to cough up the ball on his first touch of the game (a feat he repeated on his first touch of the second half), and never made much of an impact, finishing with 4 points, 3 turnovers, and no assists in 16 minutes. Foster only played 14 minutes and finished with no positive stats, putting up zero points on 0-4 shooting. The shutout was the first of his college career, and he did little to quiet anyone questioning his effort or attitude.
So, what do we make of this? At the very least, I'd say this team's effort today was better than we have seen recently, at least in the first half. The thing is, in conference play, this team isn't going to win games on effort alone (especially not on the road). Without contributions from Foster, there just isn't enough talent here to scare anyone in the Big 12. With as enigmatic as he's been this season, that is not a good sign. The truth is, Oklahoma State is probably a bottom-half Big 12 team this year, and they ran us out of the gym. If Foster can't get his act together, we can't expect many more wins this year.