Kansas State kept its winning streak going by defeating Texas Tech 58-51 on Wednesday at Bramlage Coliseum, but its momentum may have leveled off.
That’s the kind of night it was for the Wildcats, who played well enough to get their third-straight victory and climb in the conference standings, yet failed to separate from an opponent that was picked to finish last in the Big 12 and lost its last game by 32 points.
Still, K-State coach Bruce Weber was not complaining when the final buzzer sounded.
“It was a maturity game, trying to come back after the really good win against Oklahoma on the road,” Weber said. “We had to earn the victory. We did it. We went and fought and earned the victory.”
Things could have been easier, of course. K-State, 10-7 overall and 3-1 in the Big 12 Conference, led by as many as 14 in the first half and appeared in control, but it could never put away Texas Tech, 10-7 and 0-4. The Red Raiders fought back all night, forcing the Wildcats to make free throws and play defense until the end.
Shooting 21 of 26 from the free-throw line was arguably the most significant statistic of the night for K-State.
“That was huge,” Weber said. “It probably saved us.”
Sophomore guard Marcus Foster also came through when K-State needed him, leading the Wildcats with 14 points on a night when he lacked efficiency. He went three of nine from the field, getting blocked on both a dunk and layup attempt, but made up for it by hitting two three-pointers, making six free throws, grabbing five rebounds and handing out four assists.
Wesley Iwundu delivered in several areas, too, scoring 10 points and playing strong defense for 37 minutes.
When they were at their best, the Wildcats led 26-12 in the final minutes of the first half, and seemed poised to pull away when Iwundu and Foster combined to make four straight free throws following a technical foul on Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith. But the foul worked in the Red Raiders’ favor. They scored eight straight points before Nigel Johnson hit a last-second layup and gave K-State a 28-20 halftime lead.
“You just can’t stay complacent,” Foster said. “When you’ve got a 14-point lead you need to extend that lead to 20, especially going into halftime. That is how you put a team away. But they came out and hit shots. That is what they did to bring them back closer. We have just got to keep defending and put away teams. We can’t let them stick around. That is how you get confidence.”
More offense would have helped K-State, which held Texas Tech to 33.9 percent shooting. Better rebounding would have been nice, too. The Red Raiders punished the Wildcats on the glass, snaring 17 offensive boards and 38 total rebounds compared to 10 and 30 for K-State.
Robert Turner led Texas Tech with 16 points, while Devaugntah Williams added 13. They combined to hit five three-pointers.
Their contributions were needed on a night when Smith shook up his starting lineup with four freshman and a sophomore.
“We came in here and gave them a real battle,” Smith said. “This was a good opportunity for us to change the direction of things. We made a change in the lineup. I played the guys I thought were the most efficient at the time, but when you go on the road against a team like Kansas State you need veteran contributions.
“I thought we competed. We just need to get a little more scoring from our guys, and then it would be a different ballgame.”
Texas Tech was at its best at the start of the second half, playing with extra energy and quickly pulling within 34-33 on a three from Williams.
The Red Raiders kept things close from there, but the Wildcats never surrendered the lead.
“We had to just keep grinding it out, which we did, and that got us a win,” Foster said. “I feel like almost all our games are going to be like this in the Big 12, because every team is so good. It is definitely going to help us down the road.”
The road gets significantly tougher starting Saturday against No. 22 Baylor, which is coming off a victory over No. 11 Iowa State. Then comes a road game against the Cyclones, followed by games against No. 24 Oklahoma State, No. 16 West Virginia and No. 9 Kansas.
Are the Wildcats ready for five straight games against ranked opponents?
A seven-point victory against Texas Tech left mixed opinions.
“I hope it has (us ready),” Weber said. “But we have got to stay even-keel. That is the biggest thing. I want them to be focused and have emotion and have fun and enjoy it, but all we can worry about is Saturday against Baylor. We have got to be prepared.”