Well, it’s certainly better than getting blown out every night, and I suppose you could argue it offers an encouraging sign for the future. But Kansas State’s tendency to come up just short in every single close game sure is frustrating.
The latest loss came at home to slumping Texas by a score of 71-70, the fifth time this year Kansas State has lost a game either in overtime or by three or less. The optimistic outlook here would be to point out Justin Edwards and Wesley Iwundu actually played like upperclassmen leaders down the stretch offensively and the 'Cats played some good defense, only to watch 26% 3-point shooter Isaiah Taylor bury a three in Barry Brown's eye to extend the lead to 4 with 45 seconds left.
After trading an Iwundu layup for two Taylor free throws, Javan Felix graciously missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to set up perhaps the worst final possession that actually included a shot. With no timeouts and about 10 seconds left, K-State came down the court and put the ball in the hands of Dean Wade, who looked around futilely for an open teammate before putting up a contested 3 that never had a chance of going in.
That's how K-State suffered its 11th Big 12 loss for the first time since the Gilson DeJesus and Matt Siebrandt-led Wildcats of 2002-03, and you can't even blame the extra two conference games because there are still three left on the schedule. This is bad, folks, and we've reached this level because Kansas State is not only lacking in talent, it simply doesn't know how to win close games.
Awful 3-point shooting sure doesn't help, and after going 3-for-14 the 'Cats' 29 percent for the season is the worst among Power 5 programs and 338th out of 351 teams overall. Then there's Bruce Weber, who absolutely must take some of the blame for his players looking totally lost and making critical late mistakes far too often.
Most of the beat writers seem to believe if Kansas State can't cobble together 3 more wins out of a remaining schedule that includes road trips to ISU and TTU, a home game against TCU, then the Big 12 tourney, the NIT could be in doubt. If that happens, players, coaches and administrators will at the very least need to take a hard look in the mirror.
Kansas State's crucial edge on the boards, especially the 12-5 advantage in offensive rebounds, kept the Wildcats close despite better shooting from a bigger, more athletic Texas team.
I'm not going to look it up, but I have to believe that's K-State's lowest turnover total of the season. Quite impressive without its starting point guard. The bad news? The Wildcats defense only forced 6.
Maybe Kansas State's perimeter defense wasn't as good, or maybe they're just regressing to the mean on a statistic largely out of their control. Either way, after three straight games of holding opponents to 33.3% or worse, it was disheartening to see the Longhorns shoot so well.
Player Of The Game: Justin Edwards
Where was this Justin Edwards in the middle of the conference season? Oh, well. Let's just celebrate the fact that the senior guard went for a KSU career-high 20 points and did it largely by being aggressive and attacking the basket. Yes, he also hit K-State's only two 3-pointers in the first 39 minutes, but it seems like Edwards has realized that especially without Stokes, he is really needed to create off the dribble. He even added 5 assists in his 39 minutes.
Tigger Of The Game: D.J. Johnson
Note: Since HC Bruce Weber noted there are "a lot of Tiggers on this team," we're going to find that player that had an high-flying offensive play, stonewall defensive play, or a notable performance, and call them out here.
Really, this award should probably just be renamed the "DJ Johnson of the Game." As usual, DJ battled hard against much taller opponents and made a high percentage of shots to finish with 16 points and 6 rebounds. He even continued his hot free throw shooting from the KU game, making all four attempts.
Other Notable Performances
Dean Wade couldn't hit from beyond the arc (0-4) but still managed 9 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists.
Wes went for 12 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Maybe most importantly, he didn't commit a turnover for only the second time since Christmas.
Microwave was largely absent before his key late 3-pointer, going for only 2 points on 6 field goal attempts in the first 39 minutes.
Texas' Isaiah Taylor went for 19 points and made all 8 free throws in his 30 minutes.
1. The Octagon of Doom isn't so scary anymore.
Kansas State assured itself of its first losing record at home since the days of Larry Reid (seriously one of my favorite pre-Huggins players) in the 2000-2001 season. A weak student crowd didn't help, but really it's not that the Wildcats aren't playing hard. They are. The problem is opponents now have no reason to believe they can't win in Bramlage, and that confidence shows up.
2. Why the slow starts?
Once again, Kansas State dug itself a hole early, this time falling behind 14-7 in the first 7 minutes. I want to see the team that jumped out to a 16-4 lead at TCU come back. Please?
3. The freshman may be hitting the wall
I can't really take credit for this one, since TB has began warning us about it in December, if not earlier. But it's gotten pretty much impossible to ignore that K-State's newcomers just aren't as confident as they were when Big 12 play begins. It's a grind and bad things will happen, so experience helps a lot when dealing with adversity.
Dean Wade looks scared at times and has only reached double figures in 2 of his last 9 games, compared to 4 of his first 7 Big 12 games. Microwave continues to be streaky, but it seems like he's doing even less now when the outside shot isn't falling. Even juco transfer Carlbe Ervin has shown nothing to demonstrate he can step up and fill the shoes of Stokes, which really isn't terribly surprising. It will be very interesting to see how these guys respond, both in what they say and how they act this offseason.
A road trip to Ames. Yikes.