Kansas State University

K-State takeaways: Wildcats are the road warriors of Big 12 basketball after TCU win

The Kansas State Wildcats defeated the TCU Horned Frogs 64-52 to keep pace with Texas Tech atop the Big 12 standings on Monday at Schollmaier Arena.

Here are some thoughts on the basketball game:

Road warriors

Winning road games isn’t easy in the Big 12, but K-State has made it seem that way this season.

The Wildcats finished their nine-game tour of conference arenas with a 7-2 road record following a relatively drama-free victory over the Horned Frogs. K-State pulled ahead 36-27 with a late run in the first half and then stretched that lead to 21 before TCU fought back to within seven.

They took command of this game and then flexed their muscles when the home team tried make things interesting in the final minutes. They are road warriors. That is, perhaps, the biggest reason why this group is closing in on its first Big 12 championship since 2013.

“We know it is definitely tough winning on the road, especially in this league where every team is better at home,” K-State guard Kamau Stokes said after scoring 15 points. “And we just talked about being focused and locked in and fighting in every road game. It’s tough, but I feel like our guys were prepared enough to fight and get that road record.”

It’s rare for teams to win seven road games in this conference.

Kansas, Texas and now K-State are the only teams that have done it.

And to think, it wasn’t long ago that Barry Brown, Dean Wade and Stokes were freshmen and the Wildcats went 1-8 in Big 12 road games. Their only road losses this season came at Texas Tech (without Wade) and at Kansas. They took care of business everywhere else, winning four of those games by double digits.

They have come a long way, and their Big 12 road record proves it.

“It’s seniors, it’s older guys, it’s poise, it’s defense. It gives you a chance,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “I wish we would have won a couple of those nonconference road games (this season), but maybe the experience of playing in those games helped us. I just told them after, ‘I am so proud of them.’ All the guys.”

Kamau Stokes shines again ... at less than full strength

If this is what he plays like with an injured toe, a migraine and a sinus infection then it’s scary to think about what Stokes might be able to do when he’s feeling his best.

The senior guard had another strong showing on Monday, despite his list of ailments growing by one.

He wasn’t able to practice with an injured toe before taking on Kansas last week, yet led the Wildcats with 12 points in that game. He missed a shoot around with a migraine before the Baylor game, yet scored 16 important points against the Bears. And he missed another shoot around with a sinus infection before this game, yet hit several big shots on his way to 15 points.

If he’s sick and injured at the same time, as Weber has repeatedly said, it certainly doesn’t show. He has played 30-plus minutes in three straight games and been K-State’s best player over that stretch.

He was far from perfect against TCU, making only 4 of 13 shots, but the ones he made were big, including a deep three-pointer at the end of the first half. He also had five rebounds, two assists and just one turnover.

His hot streak continues.

Stingy on defense

K-State hasn’t just been good on defense against TCU this season, the Wildcats have been dominant.

When the Wildcats beat the Horned Frogs 65-55 earlier this season at Bramlage Coliseum, that was the fewest points TCU had scored all season. Then K-State limited Jamie Dixon’s team to 52 points in the rematch.

It felt like a defensive clinic at times, especially in the first half after Kouat Noi was forced to the bench with two fouls. The Frogs had trouble beating the shot clock at times, and the looks they did attempt were rarely high-percentage plays.

TCU made 41.7 percent of their shots and went 5 of 16 from three-point range. Kevin Samuel had 17 points and RJ Nembhard had 12, but no one else managed more than 17.

Brown bounces back

This was an encouraging game for Barry Brown.

The senior guard had been slumping a bit heading into this game, and his struggles seemed to continue when he was limited to four points in the first half. But he was much more active afterward and finished with 16 points on 15 shots.

“It was good,” Brown said. “I have just been working and getting put in the right spots. Coach called my number a few times late and I was able to execute.”

Brown also had an impressive pass to Dean Wade for an alley-oop dunk on a fastbreak in the first half.

He remains in the Big 12 Player of the Year race, along with Kansas forward Dedric Lawson and Texas Tech guard Jarret Culver. It will be fascinating to see if he can leave voters with a strong final impression against Oklahoma on Saturday.

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Kellis Robinett covers Kansas State athletics for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. A winner of more than a dozen national writing awards, he lives in Manhattan with his wife and three children.