The Kansas State Wildcats have a propensity for turning over the basketball. Against Texas Tech the Wildcats’ 23 giveaways led to 28 points off turnovers and 13 fastbreak points that K-State could not overcome in a 71-63 loss to Texas Tech in Lubbock.
The Wildcats (19-6, 7-5 Big 12) were fortunate to have any chance at all, yet with 3:12 to play and trailing only 60-59, they got the ball to Keyontae Johnson right under the hoop with a chance to take a lead. His shot was contested, however, and missed. It was emblematic of the game, one in which little things added up to a big loss.
It was not over just yet. Markquis Nowell made two free throws to pull K-State within 1 again, at 62-61 with 2:15 to play. But the Red Raiders (12-12, 2-10) finished on an 8-2 run, leading to a mini-court storm in United Supermarkets Arena that even the participants seemed to realize was equal parts contrived and ironic. Sure, Tech won. But nobody really believes they beat a ranked team playing anywhere near its ceiling.
Play stupid games, win stupid prizes is a tired cliché. It is also apt, in this case, as the season-long theme of making the game hard by being careless with the basketball finally cost K-State a game that it would have won merely by being a tiny bit less sloppy. The border between aggressive and careless is razor thin, and we know Coach Tang understands that he needs to allow Markquis Nowell to push that envelope to achieve the level of brilliance we often see. But against the Red Raiders, the turnovers came not on highlight reel attempts, but on mundane passes and dribble-drives. Not one of his turnovers came on an attempt at anything dazzling.
The blame falls not only on the point guard, either. Nowell had 7 turnovers. Keyontae Johnson committed 5. Desi Sills had 4, and Nae’Qwan Tomlin 3. Couple that with 18-52 shooting (34.6%), 6-26 3-point shooting (23.1%), and an uncharacteristic 19-28 (67.9%) from the free throw line, where the Cats had been brilliant lately, and it is somewhat remarkable the game did not get away until the last 2:15.
Texas Tech was no juggernaut, either. The Red Raiders committed 18 turnovers and shot only 41.8% for the game, including 7-25 (28%) from beyond the arc. But it was good enough. Or, depending on your perspective, K-State’s play was bad enough for a mediocre Tech performance to win the game.
Nowell led K-State with 16 points on 4-17 shooting, including 1-10 from deep. Clearly, that kind of shooting is uncharacteristic. He had open looks, too. Just did not make them.
Desi Sills dumped in 12 and Tomlin had 10. Keyontae Johnson led the team with 8 rebounds, but only managed 9 points on a 3-11 shooting night. Cam Carter, who has at times been the igniter for this squad, got a single rebound and a foul, and missed his only three shots from the floor and his only 2 free throws. Again, uncharacteristic. Even a merely “off” night, as opposed to a detracting one (his efficiency rating was -4.0) could have been enough to turn the tide. Alas.
Four Tech players reached double-figures, Led by De’Vion Harmon, who scored 19.
We will eschew the “Three in the Key” segment tonight, because this outcome can be summarized more succinctly:
Basketball is a funny game. It has ebbs and flows, both in the season and in individual games. Nobody is able to bring their best for 40 minutes a game, every game. But K-State was far, far beneath its best for all but a few minutes of this one.
For a period in the first half when K-State did not turn the ball over, they looked like the clearly better team. From the 15:18 mark to 10:19, K-State turned an 8-5 deficit into a 17-12 Cat lead. But they followed that respite of clean play with a return to uglier early habits. K-State committed turnovers on their next three possessions to fall behind 18-17. The Cats put things back together and took a 25-23 lead with just under 3 minutes to play in the half. But then they committed three more turnovers, missed two layups, and failed to close out on two wide open three-point shooters. Texas Tech made a 10-1 runs and went to the locker room with a 33-26 lead. The ebbs and flows in this one were not tides of fortune. They were ripples of good play followed by breakers of disorganized, lackadaisical, uninspired effort. K-State earned this loss.
Title hopes are on life support. Oklahoma must sense opportunity coming to Norman on Tuesday after watching this one. Time to correct that single biggest, most glaring error that has been haunting K-State’s hopes for far too long. Take care of the ball, guys.