Marcus Foster matched a career-high with seven three-pointers.
His timing was just a little off.
A back-loaded offensive breakout by Foster helped K-State score 47 second-half points, but the Wildcats could not recover from a turnover-filled first half and lost 65-64 to Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday in the final game of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Foster drilled a three with 0.2 seconds remaining after Tennessee missed a pair of free throws. The bucket brought the Wildcats within a point for the first time since the 14:18 mark of the second half.
Tennessee, 3-3, inbounded the ball, time quickly expired and K-State, 4-4, left the court wondering where the sense of urgency that it showed in the game’s final three minutes hid for nearly all of the first-ever meeting between the Vols and Wildcats.
“If we have a few extra seconds, we can probably win that game,” said Foster, who led all scorers with 23 points, 21 of which came in the second half. “But it started in the first half, really. That’s when we should have gotten it done.”
Instead of getting it done, K-State heaved up brick after brick against the Vols’ high-octane matchup zone and left coach Bruce Weber assessing the mindset of his team as it returns to Manhattan for a two-game home stand that starts Tuesday against Bradley.
“We were disillusioned,” Weber said. “We thought we could win with offense. Obviously, we’re not winning with offense.”
The Wildcats entered shooting a Big 12-best 39.7 percent from beyond the arc, but missed their first seven three-point attempts in the opening half and turned the ball over 13 times as the Vols jumped to a 25-17 lead.
Sophomore point guard Jevon Thomas did his best to spark a Kansas State run late in the first half when he came from nowhere and rejected a transition layup by Josh Richardson. Less than a minute, later Thomas added a layup of his own that brought the Wildcats within 17-14.
Thomas notched a career-high for the second time in a week after scoring 12 points in an 80-66 win over Nebraska-Omaha on Tuesday.
His 13-point, six assist effort on Saturday drew praise from Weber, but he and Foster combined for nine of the Wildcats’ season-high 22 turnovers that the Vols converted into 21 points.
“You have to give credit to Tennessee,” Weber said. “They play hard, and we told our guys that. They don’t let you run your stuff. You have to play basketball, and you can’t win games on the road with 22 turnovers.”
Kansas State needed less than nine minutes of second-half action to match its first-half point total. But just when the lid came off the basket for the Wildcats, Tennessee found an offensive rhythm as well.
Foster hit his second three-pointer, cutting Tennessee’s lead to 32-31 early in the half, but Josh Richardson scored two of his team-high 17 points on the Vols’ next possession and K-State did not get within three points again until Foster’s final three-pointer just before the final buzzer.
“We’d always get it down and then they’d get it back up to eight,” said Foster, who put up 12 points in the final minute. “The last couple of minutes we finally pushed it.
“But it was a little bit too late.”