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K-State’s strong defensive effort comes up short in 63-57 loss at Texas Tech

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A horrible offensive start and another late drought sunk the Cats in their first Big 12 road game.

NCAA Basketball: Texas at Kansas State
Kansas State’s big man looked great offensively — for about 15 minutes.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

If you were wondering what happens when two of the nation’s top defenses meet with one average and one awful offense, the answer was even uglier that we could have imagined.

Kansas State needed 14 shots and more than 10 minutes to make its first field goal but still somehow found itself with a real chance at Texas Tech. Sadly, although the rally got a lot closer this time, the Cats fell 63-57 after they couldn’t dig themselves out of a huge early hole in Lubbock for the second straight year.

The defense was absolutely terrific and might have even been good enough if not for a career-high 19 points from Davide Moretti, who entered the game averaging less than 9 points per game. Credit Texas Tech for showing why its defense could be the best in the country, but that’s still no excuse for scoring only 46 points in the game’s first 39 minutes.

Bruce Weber ran out of ideas during the early drought as K-State fell behind 14-0, so he turned to his crippled senior point guard, Kam Stokes. Amazingly, it kind of worked as he provided a spark and even scored on two impressive drives before halftime.

A 7-0 run cut the lead in half as Texas Tech failed to score for more than five minutes before Davide Moretti hit a long, guarded 3 to wake up the Red Raiders’ offense. Texas Tech spent the rest of the half slowly building its advantage back out to 34-19 at the half.

What’s wrong with the offense?

It’s hard to know where to begin when breaking down K-State’s offensive woes, but it clearly goes beyond the obvious lack of shooters. Movement off the ball looks stunted by poor spacing, and Kam Stokes futilely screaming for a pass while standing wide open in the corner late in the first half perfectly illustrated an alarming inability to make the right decisions.

When Dean Wade went down, much of the offensive weight he carries fell upon the shoulders of Barry Brown, especially with Stokes out or limited by injury. No one can fault Barry’s effort, but it appears he may not be up to the immense challenge offensively, considering he’s shooting just 8-27 in Big 12 play after a 5-17 performance on Saturday.

Fortunately, Barry’s proved he’s still the conference’s best perimeter defender, this time while giving up a couple inches to potential 2019 lottery pick Jarrett Culver. The 6-5 sophomore scored only 4 points in the first half and finished the afternoon with just 9, well below his season average of 19.5.

Many of us expected Xavier Sneed to an ‘X’ factor this season, so it’s a little concerning to see his recent struggles. After not making any field goals in the first half he hit a nice jumper to help Kansas State go on an 8-2 run and get the deficit back to single digits, but Sneed shot 1-8 for the day and had only 4 points.

Then there’s Makol Mawien. When at his best, playing aggressively, the big man is a force inside. He scored 8 of his 10 points and grabbed 5 of his 11 rebounds during the first 11 minutes of the second half to become the driving force as K-State cut the lead all the way down to one on Barry’s 3-pointer with 7:00 left.

Key stats and a look ahead

Texas Tech responded by going on an 8-0 run and the Cats wouldn’t make another field goal for more than six minutes with Mawien fading into the background, as he often does. Not ideal when Kansas State needed him even more than usual thanks to a dreadful 4-of-24 shooting day from beyond the arc, which included two meaningless shots in the final 20 seconds.

In theory, Barry Brown, Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra are KSU’s best shooters, at least while Kam is playing crippled. But take their awful 8-of-33 shooting and the Wildcats were a very respectable 50% (8-of-16) from the field. Not sure what that means and of course those 3 guys are taking tougher shots, but I found that stat interesting.

Perhaps the most embarrassing part of KSU’s ineptitude on offense continues to be dismal free throw shooting. The Cats hit just 15-of-24, which is right in line with their season percentage of 62%. That ranks 334th out of 351 Division I teams. Unacceptable.

To provide some numbers from a superb defensive performance, Texas Tech shot 45 percent from the field (31% from 3) and committed 19 turnovers. It’s the third time in the last four games the Red Raiders have scored fewer than 65 points, so maybe they’ve got some offensive things to figure out as well.

If you want some good news, K-State returns to action Wednesday against West Virginia, another team struggling mightily to meet high preseason expectations. This feels like a great chance to get back on track and it comes at the right time with road games at Iowa State and Oklahoma to follow.