For the first time since the final four games of last season, K-State men’s basketball has dropped four-straight games, losing to Texas 61-57 at Bramlage Coliseum Saturday.
The Wildcats (12-12, 5-6) were dominated inside by the size of the Longhorns (15-8, 4-6). Texas outscored the home team in the paint 22-10. The 10 points inside was tied for the lowest in K-State history (Nebraska 2006).
The Longhorns defended the rim with ease, racking up an impressive seven blocks while forcing the Wildcats’ post players into awkward shots to counter their size. The advantage also kept K-State from penetrating inside the paint.
“They have that good size inside and they defend that paint,” K-State head coach Bruce Weber said after the game. “They block seven of those shots, and they block two or three that was goaltending. Then you go in there and maybe you start hesitating.”
No one K-State player was challenged more by Texas’ height than senior forward Thomas Gipson. Gipson struggled to find space down low with two or more Longhorn bodies around him at all times. He finished with just five points and five rebounds in 31 minutes of action.
“Thomas (Gipson) had a tough day because of Texas’ size. With the zone, not only the first guy, but the second guy (forced some issues),” Weber said. “The shot blocking, we didn’t adjust. It was a little disappointing because we kept telling them that they’re the best shot blocking team in the country.”
The story of the night for the Wildcats offensively was the resurgence of freshman guard Tre Harris, who saw increased playing-time because of the suspension of sophomore guard Marcus Foster.
Harris was one of the main reasons the Wildcats remained close, accounting for 12 points for the Wildcats on 4-6 shooting from behind the arc.
The only issue Harris faced was improved defense in the second half by Texas. Only three of his 12 points were scored in the final 20 minutes, though the target on his back opened the door for the likes of Nigel Johnson, who finished with three 3-pointers, including a late fadeaway to give K-State a chance in the waning seconds.
Senior forward Nino Williams, who finished with a team-high 13 points, also hit a deep trey to cut the deficit down to under five points.
The opening half was a crazy ride in itself for K-State. The Wildcats opened shooting 3-20 from the field, including a 10-minute scoring drought. The home team finished with 27 points by halftime, but 14 of those points came by way of the charity stripe.
K-State tied the game at the intermission with the help of a 13-2 run that neutralized the earlier drought. Harris hit three-consecutive threes during that stretch to rejuvenate the sold-out, blacked-out Bramlage Coliseum crowd.
The home crowd was nearly given an opportunity to celebrate a win down the stretch. K-State trailed 59-57 with under 20 seconds remaining. Weber called a timeout and drew up a play that gave Gipson the ball under the rim, but his shot sailed across the backboard into the arms of a Texas defender.
“It’s hard, there’s tears in the locker room,” said Weber, referring to the loss Saturday to Texas as well as the Foster and Malek Harris suspension. “(The injuries and suspension are) tough on me and our staff, but we have to be there for them. We just have to help each other and stay with it. I guess the good thing is that some guys are getting some extra minutes and hopefully a little bit of confidence that will help them as we continue on.”
The difficulties have left some noticeable marks on the team that at one point was tied atop of the competitive Big 12 Conference.
“The only disappointing thing for me is the body language,” Weber said. “If you don’t make a shot, so what. I can’t always be begging them to have energy and passion. I understand if you don’t make shots and you don’t feel good about yourself, but you have to get up the next day and perform and do it with enthusiasm.”
K-State will try to put a halt to their losing skid Wednesday in Morgantown, West Virginia against the Mountaineers. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.