K-State’s confidence gets another boost with gritty win over Texas Tech
MANHATTAN, Kan. — Just over a week ago, these Kansas State Wildcats might as well have been left for dead.
Oh, how times have changed.
These same Wildcats now own a three-game winning streak in the rugged Big 12 after a grinding, if not terribly uneven 58-51 win over Texas Tech on Wednesday.
While it’s way too early to start suggesting postseason opportunities for the Wildcats (10-7 overall, 3-1 Big 12), they are at least starting to stir up conversation in that direction.
And now, more important, they have the confidence to think something good can emerge from this baffling season.
"I hope they have better confidence now," K-State coach Bruce Weber said. "But I think it’s more important to stay even keel. We’ve still got to get better.
"And the truth is, we still haven’t done much yet."
Maybe not. But they have resurrected a lost season. And a home win over Baylor on Saturday could get plenty of more folks pondering a future in March.
In the meantime, Weber is right. There is plenty of room for improvement.
The Wildcats have had a maddening tendency this season to play to the level of their competition, and that’s not a good thing when squaring up against Texas Tech, now 0-4 in the Big 12 and a pretty good bet to reside in the Big 12 cellar all season.
Texas Tech shot just 34 percent overall, missed numerous shots in the paint and threw the ball away 13 times. The 51 points was the second-lowest total all season for coach Tubby Smith’s squad.
"And we weren’t trying to milk the clock," Smith said. "We just have trouble scoring. We have trouble manufacturing points.
"And you have to give credit to Kansas State. They play physical. A lot of the time we just couldn’t get a good look and then the shot clock is winding down."
Wildcats forward Wesley Iwundu, who had 10 points, four rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal, said his teammates take pride in hearing how hard they play defensively.
"It’s our identity," he said. "It’s who we are."
Alas, the Wildcats also are a group just as offensively challenged.
The Wildcats hit just 38 percent of their shots and got outrebounded 38-30.
Still, Kansas State seemed in control late in the first half, muscling its way to a 26-12 lead. But suddenly, Texas Tech ran off eight straight points.
Then Texas Tech chipped away at the Wildcats to open the second half. After a Devaugntah Williams 3-pointer, the K-State lead was just 34-33 with just over 14 minutes to go.
"We came out in the second half and just lost focus," Weber said. "We kind of putzed around and they got back in it."
But eventually, the Wildcats answered. A 3-pointer from Marcus Foster (14 points, four assists) and two sweet driving layups from point guard Jevon Thomas pushed the lead back to 47-41.
"That was nice from Jevon because Texas Tech went small for a stretch there with their lineup and we drew up something for Jevon and he responded," Weber said.
But a 3-pointer from Tech’s Robert Turner (game-high 16 points) pulled the Red Raiders back within 49-46.
And then K-State again seemed overly giving. Foster, one of the team’s best free-throw shooters, missed on the front end of a bonus. Seconds later, he did so again.
And Thomas Gipson, perhaps the team’s best free-throw shooter, also missed a free throw in the final minutes.
Finally, Justin Edwards, who had an encouraging game with nine points, nailed two from the charity stripe with 27 seconds left and Foster added two more eight seconds later to push the game out of reach at 58-49.
Overall, the Wildcats were solid from the line, hitting 21 of 26.
"That probably saved us," Weber said.
And a once-lost season continues to be saved.