ANALYSIS: Freshman center Ayoka Lee’s big first half not enough to secure a win

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Freshman center Ayoka Lee looks for an open play during the women’s basketball team’s Play 4 Kay Pink Game to promote cancer awareness. The Horned Frogs defeated the Wildcats 54-52 on Feb. 19, 2020. (Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

The women’s basketball team got a taste of its own medicine when it found itself up 24-17 at halftime against TCU. The Wildcats, who have executed major comebacks in two straight games, were victims of one on their home floor. In the back-and-forth matchup, Kansas State fell 54-52.

TCU shot just 16 percent in the first half and were, to that point, suffocated by K-State’s frontcourt, who combined to knock down six shots.

“I thought early, our defense was as good as I’ve seen all year,” head coach Jeff Mittie said. “I thought early, we really defended well and I think late we defended okay.”

K-State freshman center Ayoka Lee recorded 16 of her 22 points and 13 of her 17 rebounds in that first half.

“Ayoka Lee is a problem,” TCU head coach Raegan Pebley said. “She’s phenomenal.”

In the third quarter, the strong defense broke down. The Wildcats were outscored 23-17 in that quarter. They went from up-12 with 7:36 to play to tied and only 16 seconds.

Junior guard Lauren Heard exploded in the second half for 18 of her 25 points. She was 6-9 from the free throw line and led all scorers in the game.

“The thing that gave us the most trouble was Heard … she started to realize she has to get to the rim so she can get to the line because that’s her game,” senior forward Jasauen Beard said.

K-State went into the fourth quarter up one thanks to a free throw from Lee.

The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth battle — K-State went up three, and then found themselves down three. A couple of key baskets from Beard and they were back up three.

The Horned Frogs did not take control of the lead until there was just over a minute left. K-State was down four with 55 seconds to play after a free throw from Heard.

With 11 seconds to play, Lee went to the line to shoot two with the Wildcats down two. The opportunity to tie it was there, but after missing the front end, K-State needed a little help from TCU to even stand a chance.

That help came in the form of a dropped inbound pass. The Wildcats desperately needed possession, but came up short and were forced to foul Heard, who made one of two free throws.

The Wildcats had an inbound at half court with six seconds to go, a driving attempt at a game-tying two was lost out of bounds off TCU.

K-State’s final attempt to score at the end of the game was a deep turnaround three-pointer that landed well short of the basket. K-State went the final three minutes without a field goal.

“Offensively was kind of where the struggles continued,” Mittie said. “I think they were crowding. I think they were very physical with our centers down there, but I think we need to do a better job of being able to play in tight spaces.”

K-State’s next opportunity comes in Austin, Texas, when they take on the Texas Longhorns noon Saturday.

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