In a week in which seven top-10 teams lost (including three on Saturday), it appeared for nearly a half that No. 7 Texas Tech (21-4, 9-3 Big 12) may follow suit and succumb to unranked Kansas State (17-8, 6-6). But Tech walled off K-State’s basket for the first five minutes of the second half, ran off a 15-1 run, and never looked back in its 66-47 victory over the Wildcats.
K-State started as well as any ‘Cat fan could hope, winning the tip and getting an open 3-pointer from Xavier Sneed, a lay-up from Dean Wade and two free throws from Cartier Diarra for a 7-0 lead out of the gate. After Tech got on the board with a three and the teams traded jumpers, Sneed flushed an emphatic dunk off a beautiful transition feed from Wade to push the score to 11-5 with 16:39 to play in the half. K-State would not score for the next 4:17, while Tech mounted an 8-0 run to take its first lead.
The Wildcats fought back to build leads of four and five points, only to see the Red Raiders pull even at halftime, 27-27. One of the more encouraging developments: K-State led the athletic, aggressive Texas Tech squad in rebounding at halftime, 21-16. Yet rebounding led to the most frustrating sequence of the game. With 6:23 remaining in the half, Diarra drove into the paint, missed his shot, and pulled down four consecutive offensive rebounds, but ultimately turned the ball over and came away with no points.
It would be a sign of things to come. K-State could not hit a shot out of the halftime locker room, making no field goals for the first 5 1⁄2 minutes, while the game got away. The ‘Cats did whittle a 14-point deficit down to six, 43-37, midway through the second half. But a four-minute scoring drought and an inability to slow Tech let the game get away again.
In the end, the 47 point total was the lowest by a K-State team since scoring 42 in a loss at Baylor February 21, 2015. It was the lowest point total at home since January 11, 2006, when the Wildcats scored 42 against Nebraska.
Coach Weber summed it up pretty accurately: “When they get that eight-point lead, it’s like playing a team that runs the wishbone in football. They do a good job protecting their lead. They’re tough. They’re physical. They’re one of the best defensive teams in the nation.”
Not only one of the best defensive teams. One of the best teams. Period. Full Stop. ESPN’s College Gameday crew picked a mock bracket Saturday morning, giving Kansas their last 1-seed, and awarding Texas Tech a berth on the 2-line. After KU dropped an 80-64 stinker to Baylor this afternoon (KU had 20 at halftime and looked every bit as inept as K-State, against a far inferior opponent), those prospective seeds would undoubtedly be flipped.
Texas Tech leads the conference race, all by itself. After being picked 7th in the preseason poll, the Red Raiders hold their fate in their own hands. Everyone knew they were the team poised to end KU’s reign of terror. Right?
Wade was K-State’s lone double-figure scorer, with 13. He only made 4 of 12 shots. He also led the team in rebounding, with 11. Sneed and Diarra each contributed 9, with Barry Brown adding 7. K-State shot an atrocious 3-of-17 from three-point range. That’s 17.6%, for those without a calculator at hand. Shooting overall (13-45, 28.9%), along with turnovers, probably explain this outcome. Remember when we thought K-State was finally a reliable shooting team? Inconsistency prevails now.
Texas Tech had four players in double figures: Keenan Evans with 19, Tommy Hamilton IV with 14 (on a career best four makes from outside on only four attempts), Zhaire Smith with 11 and Jarrett Culver with 10.
Three in the Key
- Too many turnovers. At one point, play-by-play announcer Mitch Holthus said Texas Tech made K-State play with a basketball slathered in motor oil. That’s a colorful and apt metaphor for excessive sloppiness, though it may give more credit than is due to the opposition. K-State wasted 18 possessions with turnovers. Diarra (5) and Amaad Wainright (4) were the prime offenders. Although Tech deserves some credit, many of the turnovers—even a share of the 13 steals—resulted more from inattentiveness than sound defensive pressure.
- Barry Brown’s struggles continue. The Microwave hasn’t been able to get heated up since his 34-point outburst at Baylor. Tonight, his seven points came on 2-of-11 shooting. Though Sneed picked up the slack for a while, Barry is the pulse of this club. He must get back to the way he was playing in January if the ‘Cats are to finish strong.
- Tech is really good. It’s always frustrating having the life strangled out of your offense, and failing to break 50 on your home floor feels like a return to junior high school. But 25 games into the season, Texas Tech’s defense is ranked 7th in the nation. They are no fluke. They have only lost 4 times, and they have fully recovered from the swoon that followed the loss of Zach Smith on January 6. Here is hoping Coach Beard and his squad can handle the pressure of being the hunted. If K-State can’t be the school to shovel a load of dirt on the Jayhawks’ streak, let it be one of the other overlooked programs that nobody believed in to start the year. Tech could win the league and be a top seed in the NCAA tournament. Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
On Wednesday at 6:00, K-State plays the suddenly relevant Oklahoma State Cowboys (16-10, 5-7). The ‘Pokes have sandwiched a home loss to Baylor between two impressive road wins against Kansas and West Virginia. They stand only a game behind K-State in the league race.
K-State is 0-6 against the league’s top three teams (Tech, KU and West Virginia), and undefeated against the rest. How long will that remain true?