Hope returned to Bramlage Coliseum on Wednesday following Kansas State’s 58-53 victory over TCU.
In years past, perhaps, the result would have left the Wildcats and their fans discouraged about their chances moving forward in a season that has many difficult Big 12 games remaining. After all, TCU is projected to finish near the bottom of the conference standings despite a hot start. And K-State failed to win convincingly, slogging through another low-scoring affair.
But on this day, that was more than enough.
One thing, and one thing only, mattered to K-State (8-7, 1-1 Big 12) coming off a three-game losing streak — victory by any means. It got exactly what it wanted against TCU (13-2, 0-2 Big 12) in front of a sparse crowd.
A loss would have dropped the Wildcats below .500 in January for the first time since 2002, when they finished 13-16 under former coach Jim Wooldridge. Instead, they head into their next game at Oklahoma on Saturday with both a winning record and returning confidence.
“You win, you’re happy,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “You lose, you’re sad. It was a tough week last week, and it’s a shame, because we are a handful of possessions from having a pretty good record or a decent record. But it is what it is. All I told them is, ‘You can’t dwell on the past. All you can worry about is today.’ They did a good (job) of that.”
It was obvious K-State was eager to turn things around from the opening tip, when a string of energetic plays on defense allowed it to take a 7-0 lead. Then things really started looking up when Marcus Foster made a layup and a three-pointer immediately after entering the game.
Foster, a sophomore guard and the team’s leading scorer, remained out of the starting lineup for the second consecutive game, but unlike a scoreless effort against Oklahoma State in which he seemed disinterested at times or a two-point showing against Georgia, he gave his all against the Horned Frogs on his way to 23 points.
“What it came down to, I think, is I got away from what I did well last year,” Foster said. “That is why I went through a little slump, but I am back and I have my mind right. I think I am ready for the rest of the Big 12.”
The Wildcats hope Foster continues to play as well as he did against TCU, leading all scorers by attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line. He also tried to get his teammates into easy scoring situations with aggressive passes. Not everything he attempted worked out, but it was an obvious step in the right direction for a player who has recently failed to satisfy the demands of K-State coach Bruce Weber.
“Going through a slump like that can really hurt a player’s confidence,” Foster said. “This really boosted my confidence.”
So much so, that he labeled the past week as both “humbling” and a “good experience.” Whatever happens from here, Foster vows never to repeat his pouting against Oklahoma State.
“Somebody woke up tonight,” TCU coach Trent Johnson said of Foster.
“He had a great game,” added TCU guard Trey Zeigler after scoring 19 points. “We got him going. He got going against us and got started early. After that he just got rolling. We knew eventually he was going to get going. We were just hoping it wouldn’t be against us.”
Combined with a solid defensive effort — TCU shot 41 percent for the game and 11 percent on three-pointers — and a balanced scoring attack that featured nine points from Wesley Iwundu, eight points from Nino Williams and seven points from Thomas Gipson, the Wildcats did enough to win their first game since Dec. 20.
Still, it did not come easily.
K-State led 22-19 at halftime and pulled ahead by 10 midway through the second half, only to see TCU make things interesting until the end.
The Horned Frogs pulled to within 56-63 with 6.2 seconds remaining, forcing K-State to play defense, make free throws and hold on.
K-State has struggled to do all three in recent weeks, and may continue to do so in the future, but it came through Wednesday.
“It is just good to get a win,” Weber said.
For now, nothing else matters.