Kansas State can’t close out games. The Wildcats will always blow any second-half lead. So goes the narrative.
To be sure, there’s ample evidence to support it, but the ‘Cats have actually bucked the trend quite a few times. In fact, 5 of their 7 Big 12 wins have come by 4 points or less, and in another (@OSU) Kansas State erased a halftime deficit and didn’t lead by more than 6 until the under-4 timeout.
An in-depth look reveals when the ‘Cats buckle down defensively, attack the basket, and make free throws down the stretch, they usually come out on top. That’s exactly what happened Wednesday night in Fort Worth, where Kansas State held off a desperate TCU team for a 75-74 win, causing some surprising bubble chatter from national folks on Twitter.
Even yet another slow start contained a significant silver lining, as Dean Wade drilled two 3-pointers while the hot-shooting Horned Frogs opened up an 11-6 lead. We all know by now what happens when Wade gets on the board early, and indeed he finished with another 20-point night. Before halftime, he hit three 3-pointers and scored on one of those drives that makes you wonder why he doesn’t try to go one-on-one from the perimeter more often.
When TCU inevitably cooled off, Kansas State responded with a 9-0 run to go in front, and a 9-2 run started by a Wes 3-pointer made it a 24-18 Wildcat lead. Six straight points to end the half, capped off by another Wes 3, extended the advantage to 40-29 at half.
Anyone who has watched Kansas State basketball this year — or Big 12 basketball, really — knew the Horned Frogs would go on a run to tighten things up in the second half. Sure enough, they scored eight straight points with a pair of two 3-pointers to cut the lead to 50-49, putting all the pressure on the ‘Cats.
This is where most of us expected Bruce Weber’s team to fold, because that’s what they do, right? See losses to Texas Tech, Baylor, and by far the most memorable, Oklahoma State. Even wins against Texas and Baylor played into the narrative because of how K-State’s advantage faded down the stretch.
Yet the Wildcats responded very well to the first TCU run, scoring seven straight points with the last four from DJ Johnson. Unfortunately, the Horned Frogs refused to go away that easily.
Kansas State’s defense didn’t make it easy (until an some alarming lapses at the very end) but TCU slowly climbed back into the game thanks to 5 second-half 3-pointers and some disjointed offense by the Wildcats. Pretty soon, it was a one-point game again.
But just like in road games at Texas and Baylor, Kansas State found a way to make sure the Horned Frogs never took the lead. Wes tried to take charge only to stumble on at least one shot he normally makes, so Dean stepped up and did the dirty work, scoring 5 huge points to put K-State ahead 69-65 with an enormous offensive rebound and putback followed by a contested 3-pointer.
From there, it was all about free throws, where K-State faltered in losses to Maryland and Texas Tech. This time, Kamau Stokes hit 4-of-4 and DJ Johnson hit 2-of-2 to keep TCU (barely) at bay and finish the night 16-of-22 from the line as a team, which is not great but also not bad.
So sure, this one wasn’t pretty and we’d all love to see Kansas State finally win a game comfortably. But after a 30-point loss at Oklahoma, it was encouraging, and frankly, a bit surprising to see such a great effort and determination to get back on track.
Also worth noting, this is the fourth Big 12 road win of the season for the Wildcats, which is just as many as Baylor, although the Bears might get another one at Texas on Saturday. However, no team except Kansas has more than five conference road wins this season, so perhaps it’s time to add a little nuance to the ‘Bruce Weber can’t win on the road’ narrative as well.
The big question, of course, is what does this mean going forward? Well, the ‘Cats only need to beat Texas Tech on Senior Night to earn the 6-seed at the Big 12 tourney.
It seems to me the ‘Cats will need to beat Texas Tech and then also beat Baylor in Kansas City to have a real shot at the NCAA tournament. Lose to the Bears, and the prospects will be dicey at best.