Kansas State lives and dies with guard Marcus Foster, so when he floundered Wednesday night against TCU, so did the rest of the Wildcats.
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Trailing 35-15 at the half to Texas Christian might be understandable, even a little palatable.
If this were football.
Alas, it was a frigid Wednesday in February, on a high school gym floor in Texas, at a Big 12 basketball showdown between one purple team with little hoops history, finding its feet, and another with a proud basketball legacy content to shoot off toe after toe with a sawed-off 12 gauge.
We would say Kansas State (the one with the shotgun and the self-inflicted wounds) ran into a buzzsaw, falling 69-55 at TCU. But that’s not exactly right, either: "Running" would imply desire or passion or hunger or will or any gutsy adjective of your preference.
The Horned Frogs (16-10, 3-10 Big 12) are better than you think — or hope, in this case — but the fact remains:
It takes some effort to get smoked in Fort Worth.
Or, in the case of Bruce Weber’s Wildcats (13-14, 6-8), a curious and disheartening lack thereof.
"I just want guys that care," Weber told reporters after the game, basically throwing the doors open on a locker room presumed, at present, to be somewhat dysfunctional. "That’s all I want: Guys that care and want to play for K-State."
If there was a bus in the back of the gym, right then and there, the coach might have taken that moment to throw half his team under it.
The disconnect between Weber and his kids — or a segment of them, at least — is out in the open now, a fissure for all the world to see. The Wildcats missed 20 of their first 24 attempts from the floor and looked, senior Nino Williams (14 points, 10 rebounds) and freshman guard Tre Harris (14 points, two treys off the bench) notwithstanding, as if they’d rather have spent the evening reading Norm MacDonald’s Twitter feed than having to worry about running some kind of offense against TCU.
Which raises its own set of soap opera plot twists, not the least of which include whether Weber can get his guys to circle the wagons again — league-leading Kansas visits next Monday in what could be one of the last serious chances to win back some fan goodwill, followed by league-title-chasing Iowa State on Feb. 28 — or if his team has shut him out for good; what the fallout will be, in terms of roster and/or staff, coming off a season in which the 19-21 expected wins are just about off the table, mathematically; and, most critically, what will become of the on-again, off-again, on-again, off-again relationship between Weber and his star wing guard, Marcus Foster.
One week, Foster sinks the Sooners; the next, red flags pop up like dandelions.
Again, the sophomore didn’t start. Again, he didn’t appear to respond to not starting all that, shall we say, comfortably (one-for-six shooting, one for five from beyond the arc, five points).
The ‘Cats are remarkably easy to anticipate in this particular regard: When No. 2 nets 12 points or more, they’re 11-6. When it’s 11 or less, they’re 2-5; when he’s suspended, 0-3.
Maybe the answer, if answers will salvage anything at this point, is more of Harris, the 6-foot-5 Illinois native with the shooter’s roll (nine for 20 beyond the arc in Big 12 contests), one of the few bright spots of a discouraging four weeks.
It’s worth noting that with Harris pulling the sled, the Wildcats opened the second half on a 15-2 run, scoring as many points in the first six minutes of the second period as they had the entire 20 minutes of the first. The freshman’s layup with 14:11 left in the contest even shaved the Frogs’ cushion to 37-30.
Thomas Gipson’s layup pulled the ‘Cats to within seven again, 41-34, but the hosts got up after the counterpunching and landed more body blows, stringing together a 9-1 run to push the score to 50-35 with 8:08 left and prompt a Weber timeout.
Whether anyone on that bench was actually listening at that point, well — there’s the rub. In Weber’s defense, it’s hard to sugarcoat a tilt in which you end the first half by not scoring the final seven minutes and 47 seconds, and by not hitting a field goal for the final 9:42.
That takes some effort, too.
So when we went to Twitter to ask Wildcat fans for their best family-friendly adjectives to describe one of the worst halves in modern K-State hoops history, the responses were hardly, um, unexpected:
Remember: Anger may be constructive, but apathy is fatal. K-State brass can endure a line of fans bringing torches to Bramlage Coliseum, snarling at Weber and gnashing teeth over a season gone south. It’s when they stop bringing themselves to games that the real problems start.