‘All you can do is keep believing’: Ugly first half leads to sixth-straight loss for K-State men’s basketball

Then-Freshman forward Antonio Gordon charges the basket for a dunk during K-State’s men’s basketball game against West Virginia in Bramlage Coliseum on Jan. 18, 2020. The Wildcats were able to take the Mountaineers with a final score of 84-68. (Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

With 3:56 to play in the first half, sophomore combo guard DaJuan Gordon caught the ball in the corner. He dribbled left, then cut back right — attempting to dribble through his legs.

The ball went straight out of bounds without anyone touching it other than himself. It was just the way the game was going for Kansas State (5-11) during Saturday’s ugly loss to No. 14 West Virginia (10-4), a game in which they tallied 28 turnovers — the worst total since Bruce Weber took over as head coach.

It was also the worst turnover total since 2002 for the Wildcats and the sixth-most in school history.

“I think it’s pretty obvious, the glaring stat is the 28 turnovers,” Weber said. “It’s the difference in the game … I knew it would be tough but I did not anticipate this. You have to make basketball reads, you just have to play basketball. Once we went south with that part with it, I think we got very tentative.”

Even with the glaring stat, K-State had its opportunities to make it a game. Freshman guard Selton Miguel scored nine-straight points for the Wildcats to open up the second half, cutting the Mountaineer lead down to single-digits. But a turnover on the next possession, and back-to-back three pointers from West Virginia, had the Wildcats looking down the barrel once again.

K-State went on to lose to the Mountaineers, 69-47, in West Virginia’s first game back in two weeks due to COVID-19 protocols.

Weber laid it out simple after the game.

“We got our butts kicked,” he said.

Prior to the game, Weber had emphasized that he wanted to get his big men more involved down the stretch and especially against West Virginia. For the game on Saturday, his big man duo of freshman Davion Bradford and sophomore Kaosi Ezeagu attempted just six shots, a stat he wasn’t thrilled about.

“We had opportunities to throw it into the paint and we didn’t do that. We have to start doing that because 3-15 from three [isn’t working,]” Weber said. “It’s definitely something we will do, they’re two of our better players. And with their field goal percentages, other players will need to look inside [more.]”

Regardless of what the team wants to do, K-State still has the turnover issue in its hands. During the first half on Saturday, the Wildcats had 15 turnovers in their first 22 possessions, and more turnovers (18) than points at the half (17) — a point total that was also a season-low.

For the players, specifically senior guard Mike McGuirl and Miguel, the problematic issue is all about the team’s toughness.

“It’s pretty clear, we’ve got to take care of the ball,” McGuirl said. “

We were careless, not strong enough with the ball. We’ve got to be stronger and tougher, that’s basically it. It’s all toughness. Being strong with it and making the right play.”

Miguel echoed his teammate.

“Just effort, energy,” he said. “I feel like if we came out with the same energy we did in the second half, in the first half, then it would’ve been a different game. We just need to play hard and be tough.”

With the six game losing streak at hand, frustrations are sure to come about — and they are. For McGuirl, he feels like it’s something different plaguing the Wildcats each game, whether that be turnovers, poor defense or poor shooting.

“It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating to lose. It seems like it’s something a little bit different every game,” McGuirl said. “We’ve got to grow, and I have to grow as a leader. We have to improve, you know, we still have time to improve and make a run at it.”

Even with the frustrations, McGuirl wants people to know that he is still riding with his team regardless of the games outcomes — that he loves to be in the position that he is today.

“I’m blessed, I’m happy to be here,” he said. “I have nothing to hang my head on. I love my team, I love my coaches and I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be here.”

On the afternoon, McGuirl lead K-State with 15 points, but also had a team-high six turnovers. Miguel finished as the only other Wildcat in double-figures with 10 points. Gordon had five turnovers of his own.

West Virginia guard Miles McBride led all scorers with 18 points.

Moving forward, Weber wants his team to keep learning and believing, regardless of the games outcomes. The rebuilding process doesn’t blossom overnight, and he wants to keep his guys working hard through the process.

“It’s all of our responsibility. We just have to get better,” Weber said. “I hope they believe that. We need to use these experiences and adversities to bring us together as a group. All you can do is keep believing.”

Up next, K-State will have another date with No. 2 Baylor on Wednesday in Waco, Texas. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. with broadcast coverage on ESPN2 and radio coverage through the K-State Sports Network.