The absence of Marcus Foster was more noticeable than ever during the final seconds of a 61-57 Texas victory over Kansas State on Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum.
With the game on the line, K-State basketball coach Bruce Weber did not know whom he could count on.
Normally, he would turn to Foster, the team’s leading scorer, to create off the dribble and hope for the best. It’s the same plan that worked wonders during an overtime victory at Oklahoma earlier this season. But it could not be recreated with Foster, who was out for his second straight game while serving a suspension that is also expected to keep him out of K-State’s next game at West Virginia, according to sources.
So Weber had to make a choice when he called timeout with 17.2 seconds remaining. Texas led 59-57, but K-State had the ball. Should he go for a three and the win? Should he go for a two and the tie? And who should he give the ball to in either scenario?
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In the end, he drew up a play with several options, but the primary goal was to give senior forward Thomas Gipson a look inside. It was a peculiar choice, considering Gipson had missed all six of his shots and the Longhorns had held the Wildcats’ entire frontcourt to a program-tying low 10 points in the paint with shot blockers crammed together in a zone defense.
Nino Williams, Tre Harris and Nigel Johnson, all of whom scored in double figures, were having better games. Weber seemed to question his choice immediately.
“Thomas had a tough day, because of their size,” Weber said. “The crazy thing is, last year at their place he dominated them. It was one of the best games of his career. But I think, with their zone, not only the first guy, but the second guy and their shot blocking, we didn’t adjust. That was disappointing …
“At least we had a decent shot. You always wish for a senior to have a chance to make a play and go to overtime.”
Gipson ended up with the ball down low against Texas forward Prince Ibeh, but he missed badly and the Longhorns clinched the game with free throws.
Texas coach Rick Barnes cracked a smile when he saw K-State isolate against Ibeh, a 6-foot-10 junior who blocked four shots and altered many more.
“He was terrific, and in the zone,” Barnes said. “When he is dialed in there, he is terrific. He was really, probably, the key in the second half in terms of the way he controlled things on the (defensive) end. I think they called us for three goal tends, which we are going to make going after plays. Prince was terrific.”
Texas, 15-8 overall and 4-6 in the Big 12,) won the final 17 seconds of a game it appeared to have the upper hand in most of the way. K-State, 12-12 and 5-6, had to fight back from a 12-point deficit in the first half and an eight-point deficit in the second half.
The surprising play of reserve guard Tre Harris, who came off the bench to make four three-pointers and force a 27-27 tie at halftime, was one of the few things that caught Texas by surprise.
Longhorns guard Isaiah Taylor led all scorers with 23 points and Connor Lammert added 12 points and nine rebounds to make up for the absences of usual starters Javan Felix and Jonathan Holmes, who were both recovering from concussions. They also helped snap a four-game losing streak.
The Wildcats have now lost four in a row themselves, partly because they have been unable to overcome the losses of Foster and freshman Malek Harris to suspensions.
The defeat dropped them to .500 in February for the first time since 2004 when Jim Wooldridge was coach.
“It is frustrating for me, because it is my last year,” said senior forward Nino Williams after scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds. “I have not lost this much probably since, I cannot even remember. It is frustrating and I hate losing.
“Our record does not define our team. It is just self-inflicted things that we are doing that have been costing our team from the beginning of the season. It is just guys making bad decisions and not acting right and coach has got to do what he has to do and treat them like men and have them grow from their mistakes.”
K-State certainly would have had a better shot at victory in its last two games with a full roster, but both teams were short-handed Saturday.
Besides, a common denominator seems to exist in all of K-State’s losses —lengthy scoring droughts.
The Wildcats seem to have 5 or more minutes of scoreless basketball in every game, and that was again the case Saturday. K-State went longer than 8 minutes without a point and longer then 10 minutes without a field goal in the first half. Then it went longer than 5 minutes without a point in the second half.
As a team, K-State made 15 of 47 shots while Texas went 20 of 37.
“Obviously, we had a lid on the hoop,” Weber said. “We are not the best offensive team … We just could not get shots down.”
Added Williams: “We have had a couple of scoring droughts. We just have to get in the gym tomorrow and the next day and hit shots we normally hit.”
One more swish could have made the difference against Texas. Instead, K-State continues to search for answers.
“We just have to help each other and keep working at it,” Weber said, “and see how to get a victory sooner or later.”