With the entire Kansas State basketball team looking to him for instructions at a timeout early in the second half Tuesday, Bruce Weber chose not to speak. Instead, he forcefully slammed his clipboard into the top of a metal chair.
His frustration was understandable.
Though K-State went on to beat Texas Tech 68-59, it did not do so impressively. Despite a strong start, it was never able to pull away from the struggling Red Raiders in a half-empty United Spirit Arena and needed some second-half heroics to survive.
“I didn’t think we were ready to play,” Weber said. “We had some guys foul in the first half. ‘When you foul,’ I asked them at halftime, ‘what does that mean?’ It means you’re not in position, which means you are probably not ready and doing the things you normally do. I said, ‘We have got to change that. We have got to have more energy.’ It didn’t happen. That was disappointing.”
Rodney McGruder made sure the Wildcats did enough to win by scoring a team-high 18 points, while Angel Rodriguez added 13, Thomas Gipson had 12, Martavious Irving contributed 10. With K-State dominating the glass — it out-rebounded Texas Tech 38-20 — that should have been enough for a comfortable victory. But the lack of a killer instinct and poor defense kept the game close.
It wasn’t until Gipson converted a three-point play that gave K-State a 66-54 lead with 2 minutes, 39 seconds remaining that the home fans gave up hope of an upset.
Combined with an ugly 52-50 victory at Oklahoma, the No. 13 Wildcats (18-4, 7-2 Big 12) have to feel fortunate that style points only exist in the eye of the beholder and have no impact on the conference standings.
A three-game winning streak has put them in position to move into at least a tie for first over the next week with games coming up against Iowa State and Kansas, the only two league opponents that have defeated K-State, but the Wildcats may need to play better than they have recently to move up in the standings.
Weber might have sensed that when he let his emotions fly with K-State clinging to a 42-38 lead during the first media timeout of the second half.
“We knew we had to step it up,” McGruder said. “Or, as (Weber) would say, ‘Get our rear in gear’ and really focus in and take care of the task at hand. We came out kind of sluggish. He just pressured us to go out and take advantage of the opportunity.”
Early on, it looked like the Wildcats weren’t going to need the reminder. When Angel Rodriguez made back-to-back three-pointers to take a 26-13 lead, it seemed as if they were ready to run away with things. But that didn’t happen.
K-State players became overconfident and started taking low-percentage shots. They stopped moving the ball around on several possessions, and it showed. They finished with 10 assists and nine turnovers. That led to empty possessions, which Texas Tech used to get back into the game.
“For the first time in a long time, I thought we took some questionable shots, which was disappointing to me,” Weber said. “We have been so good with assists to turnovers. Ten assists to nine turnovers is not the numbers that have been characteristic early in this Big 12 season.”
With K-State making uncharacteristic plays, the Red Raiders quickly pulled to within 26-20 and trailed 37-29 at halftime. They stayed hot, and forced turnovers, at the start of the second half and got as close as four.
Weber had seen enough at that point. His message was clear and effective. K-State responded with a 14-6 run and held Texas Tech (9-11, 2-7) at arm’s length the rest of the way.
Players weren’t surprised to see him angry.
“We honestly weren’t playing as hard as we usually do,” Rodriguez said. “That’s usually what gets us going, pressuring the ball and playing hard on defense. On the offensive end, the game usually comes to us.”
That didn’t happen Tuesday.
A better effort might be needed in the week to come.
“You found a way to win. You made some plays. Maybe it’s good,” Weber said. “It keeps things a little rocky. I thought when we won eight in a row it maybe got too smooth. Now it gives me and all the coaches a chance to make sure we got their attention. We are playing two of the best two teams in the league Saturday and Monday.”