Barry Brown is in a funk.
When looking for ways to explain Kansas State’s most lopsided loss in 15 years (an 89-51 whooping from West Virginia on Saturday at WVU Coliseum) that seems like the best place to start.
Not long ago, Brown seemed like a lock for the All-Big 12 first team. He scored 38 points against Oklahoma State. He scored 34 points against Baylor. He led the Wildcats into a tie for second place in the conference standings and briefly became the league’s second-best scorer, trailing only Oklahoma phenom Trae Young.
Brown, a junior guard, accomplished all of that over a stretch of fine games in January. Yet, that seems like ages ago after watching him vanish from the stat sheet in three consecutive games.
He scored nine points against Georgia, managed nine more against Kansas and then no-showed against West Virginia with one point on three shots.
He was hot, now he’s cold.
“He lost a little bit of confidence,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “He was on the top of the world playing as good as anybody, not in the league but in the country. He had some unbelievable games and lost a little bit of confidence. We have got to help him.”
That much is obvious. As Brown goes, so goes K-State.
Remember, it was Brown who organized a players-only practice on the team’s day off following a disheartening loss to Texas Tech last month. Kamau Stokes was out with a broken left foot, and many expected the Wildcats to take a step back. Instead, they surged up the standings behind inspired play from Dean Wade and Brown.
When they both consistently topped 20 points, the Wildcats consistently won.
Now that only Wade is producing at a high level, K-State is struggling to stay in games.
Question is: What can Brown do to bust out of this slump? Down games against Georgia and Kansas could be partially explained by fatigue, as he played entire games with Stokes sidelined, but he had four days of rest before Saturday and he played his worst game of the season.
Defenses are doing more to stop him. West Virginia trapped him on all ball screens, often leaving him with no choice but to pass. Still, it was discouraging to see him attempt three shots. And, much like Monday’s loss against Kansas, he missed layups.
The extra defensive attention isn’t going away. He needs to do more.
He may have realized that in the second half Saturday when frustration boiled over. He was called for a foul in the backcourt and then picked up a technical foul when he complained about it.
The game was, theoretically, still within reach at the time. But West Virginia poured it on, fans heckled Brown and the Mountaineers pulled away.
“The best go through it,” Stokes said of Brown. “He is in a rough patch right now, but I already know he is going to get it together. I am not worried about Barry at all.”
“He has been a great leader,” Weber said. “Nobody works harder than he does. He will come back. I don’t have any doubt about that.”
Brown didn’t speak with media following the loss. Right now, it’s more important for him to speak with his teammates.
He sparked K-State’s in January. It will be up to him to do it again in February.
This was Weber’s worst loss at K-State.
The final score was so lopsided that you have to go back to 2003 to find an uglier score — UMKC 93, K-State 52. While that looks bad and proves this is a wildly inconsistent team, it’s worth remembering that it only counts as one loss.
K-State bounced back from a humiliating 81-51 loss at Oklahoma last season to make the NCAA Tournament. Weber is hopeful these Wildcats can follow a similar path.
“Sometimes you need to get spanked,” Weber said. “We need to find an even keel. I talk about it all the time surviving the league. It is tough. It is daunting. This was not an easy week for anybody. You play Georgia, Kansas and West Virginia in one week, it is not easy. It maybe caught up with us a little bit.
“Nothing we can do about it, just come back and have a great practice on Monday and go to Texas and hopefully play well.”
It’s also worth remembering West Virginia is a bad matchup for K-State. The Mountaineers have depth, and lots of it. The Wildcats don’t. K-State has lost five straight in this building and seven of eight in the series.
“They play hard all the time,” Stokes said. “They are a real junkyard team. They get all the loose balls and box out. They just play hard. They go after everything.”
This was always going to be one of the hardest games on the schedule. Losing by 38 is certainly bad for optics, and it’s clear K-State has lost the mojo it had two weeks ago. But it doesn’t necessarily mean the season is over.
K-State players actually seemed upbeat after the loss.
“We just got to hit the reset button and get our composure back,” Cartier Diarra said. “It’s not the end of the world. We still have a lot of games to play and a lot of chances to prove ourselves. We have got another big game on the road against Texas. We need to be ready for it.”
Kamau Stokes returned to the court after a month on the sideline, finishing with two points and four assists in 10 minutes.
Weber said “the only thing good I did the whole day” was manage Stokes’ playing time.
He will continue to be on a metaphorical pitch count as he regains his stamina. Stokes began practicing last week and will serve as K-State’s sixth man until he returns to 100 percent.
Stokes said it was good to be back in action and will do anything Weber asks of him moving forward.
For now, Weber wants Stokes to help Brown on the offensive end.
“We can’t just have one guy carry us all the time,” Weber said. “When we won, it was because of great balance. We just haven’t had the great balance the last couple games.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett