Shortly before opening tip Wednesday, Kansas State announced it would play Texas Tech without leading scorer Marcus Foster and reserve freshman Malek Harris for unspecified violations of team rules.
Things only got worse from there.
Texas Tech crushed short-handed K-State 64-47 at United Supermarket Arena, handing the Wildcats their third consecutive defeat. The loss felt more damaging than that, though. The Red Raiders (12-11, 2-8 Big 12) entered the day fresh off a pair of lopsided beatings with one conference victory to their name.
On paper, this appeared to be the Wildcats’ (12-11, 5-5) most winnable remaining road game. Victory was a must for a team that started hot in Big 12 games but has now fallen completely out of the NCAA Tournament bubble conversation.
The defeat weighed so heavily on the mind of K-State coach Bruce Weber that he spoke about it being a microcosm of the team’s season.
“Our whole team, we have been plagued from the start of the season by immaturity, by a lack of discipline and a lack of consistency,” Weber said. “That has been on and off the court, all year.
“I gave them a sheet of paper at the beginning of the year, because I saw it coming — I guess I’m brilliant. I feared, because we had so many young guys, we wouldn’t have maturity as a team. Plus, they had too much hype. They hadn’t earned anything.
“Second thing I wrote on the paper was: discipline, to do the right thing all the time on and off the court. I said, ‘If you do those two things you will have consistency,’ and we just have not have had consistency, obviously. That is why we are 12-11 and 5-5.”
Later, he blamed himself.
“I haven’t done a good enough job as I should,” Weber said, “and that is why we are in the predicament we are in.”
Weber was fiery throughout his postgame news conference, much as he was during the game.
He offered few specifics on the future status of Foster and Harris, dancing around a question about why they were sidelined and saying he was unsure how long they would remain out. He did say, though, that he informed the K-State players of their suspensions long before they made the trip.
Foster and Harris accompanied the team to Lubbock but were not present for the game. Weber said he also disciplined sophomore point guard Jevon Thomas for immature actions by not starting him. Thomas did play 34 minutes.
Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith noticed a difference in K-State, particularly without Foster.
“He has made 50-plus threes this season, and I don’t think anyone else on their team has had more than about 12,” Smith said. “He really stretches your defense and opens it up for the inside. You have to have one or two people near him all the time, so he is a big part of their offense and a big part of their success.”
Some may say a loss at Texas Tech, especially without key contributors, is a somewhat understandable occurrence. After all, Texas Tech defeated No. 11 Iowa State in its last home game.
Thing is, that was a hiccup for the Cyclones. Can the Wildcats bounce back from a similar loss?
It won’t be easy if Foster remains out. It is not the first time Weber has had trouble with Foster this season. He also removed him from the starting lineup against Oklahoma State and TCU.
“Our players have expectations, and there are consequences when you don’t live up to those expectations,” Weber said. “Hopefully, they will learn from this experience and make the necessary progress to rejoin our team.”
K-State could have used its full roster Wednesday.
Without them, Weber used an unusual starting lineup that featured Wichita walk-on Brian Rohleder, normal sixth man Justin Edwards and no point guard.
That combination worked initially, with K-State scoring the game’s first four points, but much like its 5-2 start in Big 12 games, it didn’t last. Texas Tech dominated from there.
The Red Raiders led 34-26 at half and held off the Wildcats’ only charge in the second. After Tre Harris and Stephen Hurt made a string of threes to pull K-State within 45-44 with 7 minutes, 35 seconds remaining, Texas Tech closed the game on a 19-3 run with Devaugntah Williams making one back-breaking shot after another.
He finished with a game-high 22 points, while Toddrick Gotcher added 12 and Robert Turner had 13.
Thomas Gipson was the only K-State player to reach double figures, scoring 13. Harris had nine points on three three-pointers, and Edwards had eight points.
K-State players left the arena without speaking to the media.
It felt like it could be one of those nights for at least one team before the game started. Not long after K-State announced it had suspended two players, Texas Tech announced that junior forward Justin Jamison had been dismissed for violating team rules.
Then, power briefly went out in the arena when a small plane crashed into a broadcast tower on its approach to Lubbock’s Preston Smith International Airport, causing outages all across town. One fatality was reported.
On a much less important scale, opening tip was delayed 15 minutes.
The team that best handled distractions was going to have the upper hand. So K-State was in a bind from the start. It has succumbed to distractions all season.
“Part of performance is being mentally tough, to do things at critical times that are the best for the team,” Weber said. “That is where we are not ready. We don’t prepare like we should. Some of that is being young and understanding what it is about. … But you have got to do your job, especially when we are down some people. Everyone didn’t do their job tonight.”