Nonconference play ended disastrously for Kansas State. The start of the Big 12 schedule offered no relief. Worse, it offered questions about where they go with sophomore guard Marcus Foster after coach Bruce Weber kept him on the bench most of the game.
Oklahoma State smacked the Wildcats 61-47 with a dominant second half on Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena. Foster contributed little. Without Foster in the right frame of mind — and his bench demeanor suggested a player apart from his team — K-State is a troubled team.
“He gets down on himself,” freshman Maleek Harris said. “He plays hard in practice. He knows what he’s doing. It’s just a matter that in games, a couple of plays can take him out of the game. He gets down on himself and it kind of messes with his head.”
“It’s not all about points, either,” Weber said. “We need his points, obviously, because we don’t have that many guys who can go get baskets. He’s also got to compete and play hard every day. That’s the biggest thing. That’s all we’re asking.”
The Wildcats (7-7, 0-1) need Foster’s scoring. They also need more leadership and consistency from him. K-State’s slide started with a 58-56 loss to Texas Southern last Sunday. Foster played seven second-half minutes and scored a season-low two points in a 50-46 loss to Georgia on Wednesday. None of Kansas State’s starters started the second half against Georgia and Foster remained out the starting lineup at Oklahoma State.
K-State declined to make Foster available for interviews after Saturday’s game.
The Wildcats lost three straight regular-season games for the first time since a four-game skid in 2009.
“We just got to go the next game and hopefully win that one,” senior Thomas Gipson said. “Just be 1-0. Try to be 1-0 the next game.”
Phil Forte led OSU with 20 points and Le’Bryan Nash added 11. Gipson scored 14 for K-State. Foster played 14 minutes and missed all four of his shots.
The Cowboys (11-2, 1-0 Big 12) started the second half on a 20-6 run and the Wildcats faded quickly after leading 29-27 at halftime. K-State shot 29.2 percent in the second half, missing 17 of 24 shots, and 37.8 for the game. OSU scored 23 points off 13 turnovers by the Wildcats.
“The first half, we really played hard,” Weber said. “The second half, we told them they would pick it up a notch. We reached for balls and they beat us to balls. They just out-toughed us in that little flurry.”
The Cowboys shot 48.9 percent for the game, 52.4 in the second half. Guard Anthony Hickey scored all 10 of his points and recorded three steals in the second half. Guard Jeff Newberry scored all 10 of his points in the second half and recorded two steals.
Hickey turned the game early in the second half. His three-pointer cut Kansas State’s lead to 33-32. After a Wildcats basket, he scored again. He stripped the ball from Justin Edwards near mid-court and scored to give OSU a 36-35 lead. After another Wildcats turnover, Newberry’s free throws put OSU up 38-35.
Another steal by Hickey led to two free throws for Newberry, after a flagrant foul by Nino Williams, and a 40-35 lead.
“Our main thing is just turnovers and getting Oklahoma State out in transition,” Gipson said. “Those are easy buckets for them.”
The Cowboys upped their pressure and pushed the Wildcats to play uncomfortably fast. Nigel Johnson’s out-of-control shot banked off the glass and the Cowboys turned that into a layup for Forte. Gipson, trapped along the baseline, threw a soft bounce pass swiped by Hickey. Forte’s corner three gave OSU a 45-35 lead and forced Weber to call timeout.
Nothing changed. The Cowboys continued to force turnovers, create easy shots and frazzle the Wildcats. A layup by Nash gave OSU a 49-37 lead. Another Wildcats turnover led to a basket for Forte. Newberry’s three-pointer made it 54-37. If that didn’t signal the end for K-State, Hickey’s three, at the shot-clock buzzer, did when it swished for a 58-41 lead.
“We got out in transition and got some easy baskets,” Forte said. “We were able to get some momentum and get the crowd into it.”
All that remained for the Wildcats was to watch Foster and gauge his engagement. During one timeout, a K-State staff member gently directed him two steps closer to the team huddle.
K-State’s defense, with Foster on the bench, cooled off the Cowboys in the first half’s final 10 minutes. The Wildcats trailed 23-17 after giving up a three-point to Forte on an inbound play with 9:42 remaining. The Wildcats disrupted OSU by pushing its offense beyond the three-point line and making the Cowboys work against an organized defense.
Oklahoma State didn’t score again until Nash’s layup with 3:41 remaining. The Cowboys missed four shots, three from three-point range, and committed two turnovers. K-State tied the game 23-all on two free throws by Justin Edwards and took a lead on Edwards’ dunk after a turnover.
Gipson scored 10 points in the first half and closed the half with four free throws to give the Wildcats a 29-27 lead at the break. The Wildcats outscored the Cowboys 7-1 at the foul line.
Kansas State didn’t possess enough power and energy to keep that up in the second half, as Weber feared. Last season, he watched the Cowboys pull away in a similar fashion with his team unable to respond on the road.
“It’s frustrating,” Weber said of the Wildcats’ slide. “It’s been a hard week. It’s been a disaster.”