Nothing is easy: K-State fights off TCU to snap three-game skid
MANHATTAN, Kan. — Whew.
Call it a season-saver for these Kansas State Wildcats, reeling from a dreadful three-game losing streak and on the verge of total collapse.
But on Wednesday night before a sparse crowd of 5,000 or so fans at Bramlage Coliseum, the Wildcats sputtered but grinded out a tense and satisfying 58-53 win over TCU.
Just exactly what type of a season the victory saved is yet to be determined. An NCAA bid? Not likely. Not with a rugged Big 12 slate still ahead and not with an offense still for the most part in disarray.
An NIT bid? More likely. But even that could take a Herculean effort in the Big 12 as the Wildcats improved to just 8-7 overall.
Kansas State coach Bruce Weber likely already has accepted some of his team’s fate this season.
"It’s a shame," Weber said. "We’re just a handful of possessions away from having a pretty good record."
And, of course, the opposite is true. K-State, which spit out a sure victory in an ugly, horrifying loss in the final seconds to Texas Southern last week, nearly repeated the gaffe.
K-State seemed to have the victory all but wrapped up with a 10-point lead and just 39 seconds left. But then the late-game shakes returned.
A missed free throw. A missed block-out on a missed free throw. A turnover. Another missed free throw.
Suddenly, the ‘Cats’ lead shrunk to just 56-53 with seven seconds left.
"I was sweating," Weber said. "We made some free throws down the stretch … but if you miss any more, then it’s a disaster."
Finally, and mercifully, K-State guard Marcus Foster drained two free throws to seal the deal.
Ah, yes, Marcus Foster, the obvious individual story line here. The enigmatic and gifted Foster had let his talent go AWOL in the last week, scoring just two points in a tough loss at home to Georgia.
Weber then benched him against Oklahoma State, Foster sulked, and when finally called upon, Foster produced nothing, as in zero points.
Wildcats fans waited anxiously to see what Foster, who again did not start, would show up Wednesday. Those fans were no doubt pleased that the impostor Foster was no longer around.
The real Foster pumped in a game-high 23 points, including 10 of 12 free throws to save the night.
"Somebody woke up tonight," TCU guard Trey Zeigler said, shaking his head afterward. "He got them going. We knew eventually he would get going. We were just hoping it wouldn’t be against us."
TCU coach Trent Johnson agreed.
"I don’t know the kid, but I know the coach he plays for," Johnson said. "Marcus got away from himself and the guy he plays for. As long as he listens to his boss, he’ll be fine."
Foster simply seemed relieved that the drama may be waning.
"It has been humbling (not starting)," Foster said. "It’s something I’m not used to."
Will Foster start at Oklahoma?
"That depends on how hard he plays and practices," Weber said. "It’s up to him. I told him this isn’t me against him or the coaching staff against him."
Yet for all the focus on Foster, there were plenty of contributions from other Wildcats that helped seal the victory.
There was forward Thomas Gipson delivering three tremendous power moves inside that helped Kansas State extend a 36-33 lead to 46-36 with just over four minutes left.
"We simply can’t forget to get the ball to Thomas," Weber said. "He’s a 70 percent shooter."
There was forward Wesley Iwundu, battling a sprained hand, contributing nine points, including two free throws in the final minute.
There was forward Nino Williams, battered and limping on a bloodied leg, grabbing a game-high nine rebounds and adding eight points.
And there was point guard Jevon Thomas — still with the shakes at the foul line, where he went one for three and missed the front end of a bonus in the final minute — who delivered five points and a team-high four assists, which would have been more had his team not shot a disappointing 38 percent from the floor.
"We simply need those contributions from everyone," Weber said. "That’s who we are."
Now the Wildcats need to find out what they’re playing for.